University of Rochester

Unlocking a ‘Puzzle’

The College’s theater program stages a world premiere. Photographs by Richard Baker | Text by Scott Hauser
Anne Herzog ’06 and Frank Fulreader ’05
BIG FEET: Anne Herzog ’06 played “Campfire Girl,” a new visitor to the park, who has a special affinity for wildlife, including “Sasquatch,” played by Frank Fulreader ’05.

The setting: An abandoned campground in Washington State that may exist in the present. Or maybe not.

The characters: An eponymously named bunch of children with special abilities, a few ghosts, a sasquatch, and a couple of adults who may be figments of your imagination.

The story: Let’s just say “fractured.”

Kathryn Stilwell ’08
‘VAMPIRE GIRL’: Played by Kathryn Stilwell ’08

The finale: The world premiere of a new play called The Puzzle Locker, conceived, developed, written, and staged for the first time last spring by Rochester’s International Theatre Program, part of the College’s Department of English.

“That’s what we’re here to do,” says Nigel Maister, artistic director of the program. “And that’s why I think our program is so amazing: We have brought a new work into the world.”

Presented as the final production of the program’s 2004–05 season, the play by Obie Award–winning playwright David Hancock was often described as an exploration of the point where reality and nonreality meet. [more]

Gabriela Jones ’07, Patricia Tehan ’06, Kathryn Stilwell ’08, and Trina Schattenkirk ’07 talk with David Hancock.
Director Nigel Maister coaches Jason Zwick ’08, Kelly Smith ’05, Brent Waddington ’08, and Kristin Volpicella ’08.
Emily Butzi ’08, Elizabeth Campisi ’08, and Allison Stickles ’07
RIGHT PLAY: Students Gabriela Jones ’07, Patricia Tehan ’06, Kathryn Stilwell ’08, and Trina Schattenkirk ’07 talk with Hancock. “The students helped in the creation by being engaged, by rehearsing, and letting me see the characters develop,” he says. STAGE DIRECTION: Nigel Maister, who produced and directed the play, offers some backstage coaching to Jason Zwick ’08, Kelly Smith ’05, Brent Waddington ’08, and Kristin Volpicella ’08. SOUNDING BOARD: Emily Butzi ’08, Elizabeth Campisi ’08, and Allison Stickles ’07 help with the play’s technical production. As many as 50 students—including actors, stage managers, and production personnel—can be involved in each play presented by the program.

Other adjectives and metaphors used to convey the dramatic impact included “surreal,” “experimental,” and as “a narrative with its storytelling ‘glue’ removed.”

“The result is the norm for Todd Theater productions—bizarre and wonderful,” noted a Campus Times reviewer.

Yael Tarlovsky ’08 in rehearsal
Yael Tarlovsky ’08 onstage
CENTER STAGE: Yael Tarlovsky ’08, “Super Hero Girl,” in rehearsal (left)on opening night (right). The cast and crew for a production rehearse as much as four hours a night, four nights a week, and eight hours each on Saturday and Sunday.

In an unusual arrangement, Maister commissioned Hancock to work with Rochester students so that they could follow the process of a play’s creation from story idea to production over the course of the academic year. Hancock, author of the award-winning The Race of the Ark Tattoo and The Convention of Cartography, also taught a course in playwriting.

The playwright met with students to flesh out characters and hone the storyline last fall. He then revised the work and returned to campus to help stage the play.

Maister says he expects the play will be revised further before it’s staged elsewhere. But, he says, The Puzzle Locker will always call Rochester home:

“Wherever this text goes from here, it should carry the imprimatur of the University of Rochester International Theatre Program.”

John Rectenwald ’08 and Katherine McManus ’07
MEMORY BANK: John Rectenwald ’08 plays “State Trooper,” a character who has an unexplained obsession with “Dead Cheerleader,” played by Katherine McManus ’07. The two highlight the play’s themes of fantasy, loss, and the effort to recapture memory.