By ELISE RIO AND DANICA SILAN
Office Hours, Wednesday February 11
On February 11 and 12 during office hours, University High School (UHS) students watched the 18th annual Festival of the Absurd, for which Advanced Placement (AP) Literature students wrote and produced absurdist plays that reflect existentialist and absurdist ideas. Denise Zhou (Sr.), a co-writer of one of the plays featured during the festival, said, “Absurdism embraces the idea that the universe, life, and humanity are all pointless or meaningless in their pursuits or efforts to define the meaning of life.”
Every year, AP Literature students demonstrate their understanding of absurdism through the plays they create. Ms. Jeanne Jelnick (English Dept.) said, “The Festival has always been a program-wide project that is the culminating assessment for our unit on post-modern drama.”
The Festival of the Absurd took place on Wednesday and Thursday and showcased eight plays in all. On Wednesday, four plays were featured, including “The Brain Booth” by Zainab Aziz (Sr.) and Kyra Schmidt (Sr.), “What’s on Your Mind” by Kuki Tran (Sr.), Gopal Vashishtha (Sr.) and Zhou, “Grounds for Play-ing” by Ryan Pan (Sr.), Ryan Long (Sr.) and Kevin Kim (Sr.) and “He Who Kicked the Bucket” by Ami Sheth (Sr.) and Sheila Sharifi (Sr.).
The first play, “The Brain Booth,” featured a person, played by Schmidt, who lost her brain and was desperately trying to find it. When the person ran into “The Brain Booth,” the booth’s clerk, played by Ryan Nicholson (Sr.), told the person that the brain booth could supply her with any brain she desired. The person tried on two brains, a smart brain and a creative brain, played by Grace Xu (Sr.) and Clarissa Wu (Sr.), respectively. In the end, she could not decide on one brain in particular, because there is no such thing as a categorized brain, and no easy way to shop for the perfect personality that fits us. Schmidt said that “even though writing the play would seem more daunting, the production of the play took more time and effort than [they] had originally assumed.” Nicholson said that acting in this play, along with other plays, “was a ton of fun! Absurdism and Existentialism are my favorite subjects that we’ve studied in AP Lit this year so writing and acting in those plays was amazing. And knowing that the plays I acted in were written by friends made it so much better”.
Following “The Brain Booth,” the audience watched the Abby award winning play, “What’s on Your Mind?” This play portrayed the effect of social media on humanity, showing how trivial and superficial features from social media, including “likes” on Facebook, “retweets” on Twitter and screenshots on Snapchat, were taking over the lives of two people, acted by Keira Monuki (Sr.) and Nicholson.
Zhou said, “Our characters spend the majority of the play either speaking into the nothingness of the setting or talking at (and not with) each other. We wanted to create this understanding with the audience that the characters were using social media as a means to pass the time, a purposeless activity.” “What’s on Your Mind?” was easy to relate to and constantly made the audience laugh with its clever production and amusing lines. Zhou said, “Overall, I think everyone involved did a really fantastic job bringing the script to the stage and it was really exciting to see it all play out.”
The third play, “Grounds for Play-ing,” told the story of two girls, played by Monuki and Pan, growing up under the influence of media. The parents, played by Yauss Agahi (Sr.) and John Chung (Sr.), constantly repeated that time was moving too quickly as their kids experimented throughout their childhood based on what they saw on television. About her experience, Monuki said, “Performing in the plays really helped me understand absurdism more and translate what I learned in class to the stage.”
The last play, “He Who Kicked the Bucket,” featured a bucket that, according to actors Sparsh Sah (Sr.) and Spencer Ma (Sr.), was much more than a simple, everyday object. As people walked by the bucket, Sah described the power of the bucket and all the possibilities that it could hold. When Sharifi and Daniel Tran (Sr.) joined Ma and Sah, they too became mesmerized with the bucket until George Hu (Sr.) ran in and carelessly knocked over the bucket, collapsing afterwards, literally playing out the popular idiom “kicking the bucket.” As people leaned into the bucket, a metaphor for death, they could see how they would die. Sah said, “Although I was practicing and forgetting my lines even as I began to take the stage, the performance ran smoothly.” Ma described his experience acting as very fun and said, “I thought I was going to completely flop and forget my lines because I was so nervous, but I just had fun on stage with my other cast mates.”
Office Hours, Thursday February 12
On Thursday, students watched four additional interesting and comedic plays. The first play was “The Very Ugly Duckling-The Story of The Duckling That Was Very Ugly” written by Andyshea Afyouni (Sr.), Charlie Xu (Sr.) and Daniel Tran (Sr.). This play, narrated by Biyonka Liang (Sr.), cleverly recreated The Ugly Duckling, demonstrating people’s superficial tendencies to value a person based on his or her appearance.
The second play, “Mhmm. That’s Nice.,” written by Michelle Chen (Sr.), Melissa Chang (Sr.) and Christina Liao (Sr.), featured death, played by Harry Ho (Sr.), who slowly killed people who were too occupied with their lives to notice their surroundings. This play demonstrated that people rarely live their lives to the fullest; before the characters in the play knew it, death told them that their time was up.
In “The Biggest Day of A Girl’s Life,” written by Megan McCarthy (Sr.) and Yelena Mandelshtam (Sr.), three girls dramatically beautified themselves for what they said was the “biggest day of a girl’s life,” worrying about covering up their flaws by doing their makeup and hair. At the end of the play, the audience discovered that the “big day” the girls repeatedly referred to was merely their prom night. The play hilariously showed the absurdity of always trying to be perfect and not accepting imperfections. McCarthy said, “From watching the show on Wednesday and hearing the audience reactions on Thursday, I think the crowd was really receptive to our pieces this year, which is a great feeling!”
The last play, “The Game of Life,” by Stacy Moroz (Sr.), Koan Zhang (Sr.) and Tamara Lin (Sr.), cleverly showed two people, acted by Leandro Lebumfacil (Sr.) and Francis Agustin (Sr.), playing the board game Life to see what their future would entail, including their accomplishments and failures. Moroz said, “Even if someone seemingly has the world against them, their hard work and adversity will make them enjoy life more and end up somewhere in life that they are satisfied with.” She added, “Though staging and rehearsing for the play in such a short period of time was stressful, the final product and the audience’s reaction was very rewarding and made our work worth it in the end. A special message from Koan, Tamara, and me goes out to the retirement fund: Welcome to Hollywood.”
Ms. Jelnick, Ms. Susanne Fitzpatrick (English Dept.) and Ms. Amber Linehan (English Dept.) chose the eight featured plays through a lengthy process. Students could write plays alone or in groups with no more than three people. Out of 120 plays, the AP Literature teachers selected the strongest 15-20 plays based on a rubric given to the students when the plays were assigned. Afterwards, the three teachers met for an entire day to read the plays, eliminating the ones that were similar in concepts and settings, or that had unrealistic staging demands, to reach an agreement on the top eight plays.
The Festival of the Absurd is special because it lets students share their work and see it come to life on stage in front of an audience. The stage crew and emcees successfully helped the plays transition from one to another. Wednesday’s emcees included Anjani Iman (Sr.), Olivia Hanson (Sr.), Pranav Idamsetty (Sr.), Laura Li (Sr.), Min Hwang (Sr.) and William Hofstadter (Sr.), while Thursday’s were Caroline Werth (Sr.), Christine Choi (Sr.), Harry Ho (Sr.), Varun Vasudev (Sr.), Lohit Velagapudi (Sr.) and Jacob Wigal (Sr.).
Werth said, “The Festival of the Absurd is something I have looked forward to participating in since sophomore year. I loved working with the Emcee group to make smooth transitions into the plays. I wish the audience could see just how hectic it was backstage.” The Stage and House Crew prepared the props for the actors, took charge of the lighting and sound and passed out programs. AP Literature teachers used artwork by Alana Porat (Sr.) and Matthew Lin (Sr.) to create posters that publicized the Festival of the Absurd, and also showcased other pieces of student artwork printed in the programs distributed during the festival.
During Office Hours on February 18, the AP Literature teachers held the 18th annual Abby Awards, recognizing and awarding those who helped make the festival successful. AP Literature students voted for plays and students from numerous categories and the teachers awarded an Abby Award, or statue, to those who won.
Best Written Play: Stacy Moroz, Tamara Lin and Koan Zhang for The Game of Life
Best Overall Production: What’s on Your Mind?
Best Lead Actor: Ryan Nicholson
Best Lead Actress: Keira Monuki
Best Supporting Actor: George Hu
Best Supporting Actress: Tamara Lin
Best Male Emcee: Harry Ho
Best Female Emcee: Caroline Werth
Alexander Chang was a member of both House and Stage Crews, and was given an award for being stage manager.