RareWorks’ student-written Anchortown sets sail

by Annie Huang / Beacon Staff • February 24, 2016

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The cast of Anchortown.
The cast of Anchortown.

The stage and the cast are nowhere to be found, yet the audience is present. Some sit at three large tables in the middle of Little Building’s Cabaret. Others are parked in seats surrounding the theater’s center. The rowdy tavern breaks into chatter underneath the white tapestries, fishnets, and thick ropes hanging from the ceiling. 

Suddenly, a singing voice emerges from the crowd. Then two, then three. Then a dozen.

The tune slowly comes to a stop, and thus begins Anchortown, written by junior performing arts major Mitchell Buckley. RareWorks, a theater company at Emerson that often produces plays written by students, presented the show. The ensemble cast of 12 performed to packed audiences last Monday and Tuesday.

The play tells the dramatic tale of an ordinary town and the mystical events leading up to its destruction, starting with a strange man who fell from outer space. Filled with extraterrestrial pirates, a deranged sorcerer, forbidden magic, and tons of laughter, the comedic production was nothing of the ordinary.

In the production, an old woman named Moonrise, played by sophomore performing arts Kira Compton, narrates the memories of her childhood in the titular town. Freshman performing arts major Talia Frank-Stempel, who played young Moonrise, said she did a lot of research to play her eight-year-old character. 

“This play can be described as an ode to storytelling,” Frank-Stempel said. “It just goes to show that everyone has a special story.” 

According to assistant director Katharine Johnson, the crew wanted a setting that pulls the audience’s imagination into the story.

“[They’re] taverngoers, who sit at tables and around the venue at bars, so they can really be immersed into the play,” the sophomore performing arts major said.

Freshman performing arts major Ben Bailey played Moonrise’s brother, one of the many residents of Anchortown who is content with his life. He said there are some challenges that come with being in a production that’s never been staged before.

“You can do whatever you want with it,” Bailey said. “But at the same time, you want to do the playwright, [Buckley], justice, because he goes here.”

Sophomore performing arts major Jonah Godfrey said this was his first time directing a large performance. Johnson, who assistant directed for the first time, said the three of them worked well together.

“We have created an ensemble that is really supportive of one another, willing to take risks, and try new things,” Johnson said.

According to Godfrey, he and Buckley continually altered the script since winter break. Although the setting was already planned in great detail, he said that Buckley helped with organizing the venue and the casting process. For the cast, whose roles demanded occasional singing, jumping on tables, and sword-fighting, Godfrey said that everyone “gels” together.

“[The cast], while very young, are really talented,” Godfrey said. “There were some members that I casted who were outside of their comfort zone for this play, and they worked so incredibly hard to bring their character to life.”

With a space so small, the cast had to mime actions like putting books on shelves and rowing a boat. Johnson said that because the show was so technically heavy, it was important for the audience to see all sides of the stage, thus the unusual theater arrangement. She said the crew had to figure out how to incorporate many different elements to convey the story. 

“It’s a rollercoaster,” Johnson said. “There is some pretty shocking content that will really jolt [the audience], then there are beautiful moments of silliness and sweetness. There is something in the show for everyone to be able to connect to.”