Not every Maryville College theater major has the opportunity to perform in the heart of Times Square. Even fewer have the opportunity to participate and star in a role at the premiere of a play. Despite these improbabilities, both Walker Harrison and Caitlin Campbell are looking forward to enjoying both of these opportunities later the semester at a reading for the Dramatists Guild of America in New York City.
On Dec. 14, Harrison and Campbell will travel to New York to perform “The Sniper’s Nest,” a two-person play written by adjunct professor of theater Lisa Soland. Accompanying the actors will be Soland, who will direct the play, assistant director Rachel Jarnagin and stage manager Daniel Noles.
“The opportunity to go to New York to read the play in front of publishers, agents and other industry professionals is amazing,” said associate professor of theater Dr. Heather McMahon. “That experience will give these students an insider’s perspective and no doubt give them confidence as they launch their careers after life at MC.”
Soland wants the trip to be an educational experience for Campbell, Harrison, Jarnagin and Noles.
“The plan is to build a stronger bridge, so that MC students can enter into the world,” Soland said. During the trip, Soland plans to arrange meetings with actors in New York for Campbell and Harrison to talk about what the everyday existence is for an actor trying to make it in a major city.
“It’s a good trip for me and for Caitlin as a transition into the professional world,” Harrison said. “It’s definitely a great opportunity for us to see different dynamics of our craft.” Campbell, a junior theater major, agreed. “I feel that this is the beginning of something for me,” she said. “It’s the biggest thing that I’ve ever done.”
Soland also wants Jarnagin and Noles to have the opportunity to meet professional stage managers in the city. “[Jarnagin and Noles] can talk to them, and find out what it’s like to make a living doing what they want to do in New York City,” Soland said.
“It’s much more significant going as part of a production,” said Jarnigan. “People will see what I’ve done with and I might get some connections while I’m there.”
The play making this trip possible, “The Sniper’s Nest,” will star Harrison as Lee Harvey Oswald, the man accused of shooting former president John F. Kennedy. The play tells the story of Oswald before Kennedy’s death and includes details that Campbell says will probably be new to audiences.
“It presents Lee Harvey Oswald in a different light,” Campbell said. Campbell said that the play was unique in that it shows a fact in history from a different perspective and “from someone who was actually there.”
“It has an element of realness,” she said. “This play has the potential to reshape history and how we view American politics,” Harrison said. The story also brings to light an alleged romance of Oswald’s. “A lot of people don’t know that [Oswald] spent the summer in 1963 before he shot JFK in New Orleans, working on a secret project with a young, beautiful scientist by the name of Judyth Vary Baker,” Harrison said.
According to information on Baker’s blog, she was professionally and romantically involved with Oswald in 1963. Baker has lived in “undisclosed locations” in Europe since 2007 where, her blog says, she sought political asylum after threats on her life. Campbell, who will play Baker in “The Sniper’s Nest,” may come faceto- face with Oswald’s supposed lover in New York, as Soland confirmed that Baker will be attending the reading. Harrison and Campbell will be also performing “The Sniper’s Nest” in the Haslam Family Flexible Theatre in the Clayton Center for the Arts from Nov. 29 through Dec. 2.
The MC showing will be the play’s premiere, which means that the actors’ names will be recorded as the first to play Oswald and Baker in “The Sniper’s Nest.” The performance is part of Harrison’s senior thesis project. He will be researching acting theory, keeping a journal during his performance of “The Sniper’s Nest” and forming a written response to the performance afterward. “The Sniper’s Nest” is the most recent in a long list of performances that involve both Campbell and Harrison, but it is the first time that the pair will be in the first showing of a play.
“The opportunity to work on a new play is extraordinary for our students,” McMahon said. “The actors and crew will be in on the creation of a new piece, and that is a special experience for all involved.” Soland acknowledged the difficulties of being part of a play’s premiere. “The demands are stronger on [Jarnagin and Noles] and certainly on the actors, because they’re creating the parts from nothing for the first time,” Soland said. “Everything we do will go into the published script.” Harrison is eager to add the experience to his resume.
“It’s like you’re in the room creating it for the first time,” Harrison said. “[It] is kind of a magical, powerful thing.” The “magical” experience of taking “The Sniper’s Nest” to New York requires funding, however. Soland plans to use kickstarter.com to collect donations. The cast and crew’s goal is to raise around $5,000 for the New York trip, and Soland hopes that anyone interested will consider contributing.
“Those funds are going to send the playwright/director and four students to New York City,” Soland said. “It couldn’t be a better cause and you’d be contributing to something great.”