Telling Stories to Survive: Q&A With the Cast of Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play
The School of the Arts is performing “Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play,” opening tomorrow through Sunday, February 26, 2023.
Permeated with the idea that we turn to art in times of immense difficulty, this 2013 black comedy by Anne Washburn tells the story of a group of survivors shortly after a global catastrophe. As a way of making sense in a world that no longer makes sense, they recreate their vanished world through storytelling (some of it featuring Bart Simpson) and turn pop culture of one era into the mythology of another.
Liv Cunha ’23 (Jenny/Chorus) and Emily Goyette ’23 (Colleen/Terri) gave us a look inside the process of creating the show across three acts – and the deeper meaning of the story.
“This show is unlike anything I have ever seen or been in,” Liv explained. “The show is extremely meaningful and significant, but it's also ridiculous and strange. I think that's the point. To me at least, the main idea of this play is the art of storytelling and remembering and how that's integral to human survival. In Act One, it's all of us sitting around the campfire after a stressful day (no spoilers), talking and remembering this Simpsons episode. It may not seem like a big deal, but this moment where we get to finally relax and just talk and tell stories is honestly one of the few things that are helping us to survive and stay sane in this world. And then we see this story continue into Act Two and Act Three, proving the point that what people crave, and need, is to connect and share stories. They always have and always will. That is how we remember. Even when everything is horrible, like truly horrible, storytelling is a way to help us cope and carry on. Being able to use this play to explore that idea has been my favorite part of this process.”
One way they have been exploring the art of storytelling has been through their characters. In Acts One and Two, Liv plays Jenny and Emily plays Colleen. To prepare for these roles, the cast participated in the usual meetings, reflections and character development processes.
“Act One and Two was more of a traditional process of table work, meeting your character through your own thought process through analyzing the text and understanding the relationship you have with everyone else on the stage,” explained Emily. “Those of us in Act One and Two moved into school about a week early this semester and spent time creating a world that made sense for us and the story we wanted to tell. For me personally, growing the character of Colleen has included writing from her perspective and creating a backstory to pull from for the show.”
Liv also spent a lot of time journaling to get to know her character – a process that still continues even as the curtain gets ready to open.
“Our director, Andrew, and our assistant director, Zion, left me with questions to answer about who Jenny is, what she wants, what is meaningful to her, what drives her, her relationships with the other characters (and how that changes), her relationship to the story, and her relationship to this chaotic and devastating world that they are living in,” she said. “I would essentially just sit on my bed and journal for hours and hours to answer these questions. Of course, it didn't stop there. I was still making discoveries when we got back from winter break, and I am still today.”
Act Three, on the other hand, is a different story. Set 75 years in the future, the cast has new roles and is creating an entirely new world.
“Act Three was a master class in devising theatre and starting from the ground up,” said Emily, who plays Terri in Act Three, while Liv is a member of the chorus. “We created our own world, and it's truly a piece of theatre that only this company could have created. Being given the ability to play and explore in the space with people that love the craft has been the best part of this show.”
Despite the changes between the three acts, they all connect to each other in unique ways.
“This story would not be complete without each act,” Liv said. “They all support each other. I am also very excited for the audience to see the Act Three costumes and masks – they are amazing!”
Emily also echoed the importance of connection across each of the three acts – and the role that storytelling plays in creating that connection.
“I'm most excited for the audience to see a story about the importance of storytelling and human connection,” she said. “Storytelling is something that goes as far back as humans have been on this earth, and there is a natural desire to come together and tell a story and experience it. At the core of this show, it is a group of people trying to find normalcy during the apocalypse through an act that is natural for us as human beings.”
The Dean College production of “Mr. Burns” will take place in the Main Stage in the Dr. Paula M. Rooney Student Center at Dean College, 109 West Central Street, Franklin at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, with 2:00 p.m. matinees on Saturday and Sunday. To purchase tickets, visit the Dean College Box Office.