MC Student writes and directs autobiographical work for senior study

By NATE KIERNAN DESIGNED BY BRANDI PAYNE “Fake It ‘Til You Make It” was performed the weekend of March 10 at Maryville College. Poster designed by Brandi Payne.
“Fake It ‘Til You Make It” was performed the weekend of March 10 at Maryville College. Poster designed by Brandi Payne.

MC theatre major Trevor York is tackling a powerful subject with his Senior Study.

“Fake It ‘Til You Make It” is a two-man staged reading that follows the journey of Wayne, a young man who is transitioning from high school to college while struggling with depression.

The staged reading, which is presented by Alpha Psi Omega and the Maryville College Theatre Department, is written and directed by York and performed by theatre alumnus Matt Lyscas ’14 and post-baccalaureate alum and Austin East High School theatre teacher Doug James. Performances took place on March 11 and 12 in the Clayton Center for the Arts’ Haslam Family Flex Theatre. Due to the subject matter, the play is intended for mature audiences.

“This work is autobiographical,” York said. “I have been dealing with depression since my senior year of high school.”

York’s directions lead the cast members to bring the various aspects of the illness to life through the use of several masks on stage.

“The subconscious recollection of events relating to family and friends exposes the audience to the pain and hope one individual can harbor,” York said. “The viewer is educated to the excruciating anxiety and hopelessness one feels in not being heard or properly diagnosed and treated. It can have devastating results when no change can be foreseen within.”

Wayne “fakes it” as he masquerades his depression but eventually “makes it” when he reveals himself from behind the mask, York said.

In this staged reading, actors perform with the script—and with minimal stage movement.

“The benefit is that this allows audience members to focus on the play as written and to give their attention to the actors with fewer distractions,” said Dr. Heather McMahon, associate professor of theatre and York’s advisor. “This is also a useful tool for the playwright/ director as he will be able to gauge the audience reaction to the script and decide if adjustments need to be made in future drafts of the play.”

The idea for the work was conceived when York completed an assignment for (MC Adjunct Instructor of Theatre) Lisa Soland’s playwriting class.

“Last year in playwriting class, we were asked to write a monologue about something that defined us,” York said. “I decided to write about my depression. My teacher felt that this was a very relevant topic that people are often uncomfortable sharing with others.

“She felt that if it was openly discussed, it could create a clearer understanding of what it is like to deal with depression,” he added.

Soland encouraged York to develop the monologue into a one-man play for his Senior Study.

McMahon agreed that the topic is extremely relevant for all audiences.

“I am so happy that Trevor has decided to tackle the subject of living with depression,” McMahon said. “As college faculty and staff, we see more and more students struggling with depression every semester – in fact, there is now a nationwide conversation about how colleges and universities can address the growing numbers of students who struggle with some form of mental illness – so we know that this subject matter is timely and important. I believe that many people will see themselves in the main character, Wayne, and I know that the character’s struggles will allow others of us to have a better understanding of what it is like to live with clinical depression.”

York hopes to educate the audience on what it is like to live with depression while also showing that the illness can be managed.

“I hope people see that depression can affect anyone and everyone,” York said. “You can be on top of the world, and, in the blink of eye, you can find yourself in a dark place that is hard to escape from. Also, I would like people to know that there are a multitude of ways to deal with depression.”

McMahon added that York “managed to treat the heavy topic with a light hand, so that there is humor and levity in the reading, making it entertaining as well as educational.”

Though York said he felt the rehearsals are “going great,” he admits that the process has been anything but easy.

“It was an extremely emotional process, and it was, at times, difficult for me to want to expose myself so openly to everyone,” York said. “I can’t count the number of times I just wanted to trash this project and do something else.”

McMahon said the magnitude of York’s task as both playwright and director “can’t be overstated.”

“This project has been over a year in the making already – but that is what a Senior Study project should be,” the professor said. “It is a capstone in the truest sense of the word.”

York said that as a writer, he has learned that writing a play is a “monumental” undertaking.

“I had no idea how many rewrites it would take to finally get something that could be seen by an audience while staying true to my theme of depression,” York said. “As a director, it has been challenging to direct a one-man reading and effectively guide my actor in his development of a variety of characters that gets the story across efficiently.”

Choosing the way in which he wanted to present his work also proved to be challenging for York.

“I considered writing and performing the play, but since writing the play was emotionally draining, I realized that performing the play would be even more so,” York said.

In addition to his work in the MC Theatre Department, York also regularly volunteers with the Knoxville Children’s Theatre (KCT).

“The opportunity [to work at KCT] has fueled my dream to someday open my own children’s theatre,” York said. “I love working with such a talented group of kids. Sometimes keeping some of them on task can be a little more challenging than I had imagined, but it is still a lot of fun and a great learning experience.”

Each of York’s many avenues of work has equipped him with beneficial skills that can be transferred to any career field, McMahon said.

“Trevor is bringing together all of his studies both in and out of the classroom in order to make this show happen,” McMahon said. “It is a daunting process, but he is developing and honing skills that will carry him into the next phase of his life: ‘the real world.’

“All the work he is doing on this project will enable him to transition into a career, whether in theatre or something else, because these skills are so transferable: he is having to budget his time and his monetary resources, collaborate with a wide variety of people, and juggle every aspect of the production from approving poster designs to choosing props,” the professor added.

Upon graduation, York plans to spend a year in the AmeriCorps program assisting with disaster relief before pursuing a career as a performer.

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