1930s Scotland in the Black Box Theatre
Students prepare for this week’s performances of ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’
You may have heard a few Scottish accents if you passed by the Black Box Theatre this week.
But they weren’t all real.
From Wednesday to Sunday, UB’s Theatre and Dance department is performing “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie” in the Center for the Arts Black Box Theatre, and students have been preparing since the beginning of the semester for the production. Based on Muriel Spark’s 1961 book of the same name, the play focuses on Jean Brodie, an unorthodox teacher who romanticizes fascism at an all-girls school in 1930s Scotland. During the play, she tries to mold her students’ beliefs, chooses between two love interests and avoids being forced out of the school by faculty who dislike her strange teaching methods.
Emily Carello, a junior theater performance major who plays one of Miss Brodie’s students named Sandy, says preparing for the play has been a learning experience for her. During the six years that the play goes through, Sandy grows from being an 11 year old to a 17 year old and develops into an opposing character to Miss Brodie.
“We had to learn to do a Scottish accent, which was challenging but [also] really exciting. It’s nice to be able to add that to your resume, especially as an actor,” Carello said.
Despite being in a small space in the theatre, Carello described the show as “very refined, cultured and elevated” and mentioned that there are roughly 27 set changes.
Mateo Gonzalez, a sophomore theatre performance major, plays the role of the strict and religious teacher Gordon Lowther, who is one of Brodie’s love interests. Gonzalez says Lowther is an innocent character who contrasts with one of the play’s main themes, a loss of innocence.
“This show has to do with the development of consciousness and an outlook. [It includes] little kids growing up from not knowing what things are and [then] maturing into realizing what they are and losing their innocence,” Gonzalez said.
Louie Visone, a senior theatre performance major who plays another of Brodie’s love interests Teddy Lloyd, agreed that loss of innocence is a prominent theme in the play. Visone says the audience will see how Miss Brodie changes the students.
“On one hand, they do have this ‘Dead Poets Society’ thing going on between Jean Brodie bringing up these kids,” Visone said. “On the other hand, you get to witness the innocence disappearing from these kids as they grow up and learn about the main thing that takes away innocence which is going to be sex and maturity.”
Senior theater design major Jake Nowak is the props designer for the show and helped to create the world on stage.
Nowak worked closely with both the set and costume departments to determine what props he needed to work on for the production. He calls the set “very minimalistic” and said he worked on a lot of hand props while the set designer focused on furniture.
“So like the tea set was mine, but she had the tea cart. She had the table, but I had the chess set that sat on the table,” Nowak said.
Vincent O’Neill, co-founder of the Irish Classical Theatre and director of the play, wanted both the set and the props to be minimal so that the crew did not have to worry about moving too many objects during all the show’s transitions.
Senior Emily Bassett plays the role of Miss Mackay, who is the headmistress at the school and also the foil to Miss Brodie.
“While Brodie is about the arts and history and all those things, Mackay is very much straightforward in math and science,” Bassett said, “She and Brodie go head to head a lot, and Mackay’s raison d’etre, her mission in life, is to get Brodie fired. She hates her with a passion.”
Bassett says that this play is significant because people in positions of power, especially teachers, have a strong influence on the younger generation. Bassett also sees the necessity to perform more scripts with strong women characters and those written and performed by strong women.
“[The play] isn’t afraid to make [the characters] villains at times. It doesn’t have that purity complex,” Bassett said. “Each character is a fully blown character. So it’s really valuable in terms of opportunities and things within the theatre world.”
Bassett, who prepares for the role while speaking off stage in a Scottish accent, says she hopes students can enjoy the show –– Scottish accent intact.
Anastasia Wilds is an assistant arts editor and can be reached at email@example.com and on twitter @AnastasiaWilds.