After over a year in the works, the WCU Department of Theatre and Dance debuted “Never Have I Ever,” a play written by Jan Rosenberg for West Chester University in collaboration with The Farm Theatre. The Farm Theatre collaborates with early career playwrights and partners them with universities to write a show that would be relevant for a college campus to see.
Throughout the year, the script was kept very private because it was still going through revisions and was not finalized until its debut. The play covers a wide range of topics, from eating disorders to social media use on college campuses. The cast was allowed to share these details about the plot because these things could be triggering for some individuals so it would be important to know that before walking into the show. Other than that, the details of the show were kept tightly under wraps.
Coincidently, the show debuted on Thursday, March 1 during National Eating Disorder Awareness week. Jan Rosenberg feels that there are not accurate portrayals of eating disorders in the media, television, movies and on stage. She wanted to share an honest and true story and ultimately spark a conversation about these issues.
The story follows six college students: Ian (Charley Bloomfield), Callie (Casey Parker), Arielle (Hannah Weiss), Miranda (Emma Johnson), Felipe (James Saracina) and Dove (Alexandria Hunter), as well as the school psychologist Dr. Gayle (Lauren Tetlow) as they tackle various issues that surround college life.
Being given a storyline that was still in the works when they received it was a unique experience for each cast member and the rest of the team. Because it was not a finalized script, the actors had some say in the direction that the story and the characters would go.
Charley Bloomfield said that he was happy to be part of the creative process. Being part of something new on campus was rewarding because most people do not have the opportunity to do that—to really build the character from the ground up.
The cast spent a considerable amount of time building the backstory of their characters. They created collages of things they thought represented them. They spent time figuring out how their character would do normal everyday things like studying, what that looks like and what it looks like to just walk back from class. Discovering each of the little quirks of each character was important to building the show.
Emma Johnson enjoyed the opportunity to help shape her character, Miranda. “Because they are college students, we thought, what could this person’s major be? And it’s a lot of stuff. No, it’s not in the text of the show, like there are a lot of things the audience will never know, like that I decided my character is an international business major and why I felt that way, but having that backstory helps to build the character,” said Johnson.
“Never Have I Ever” is a show that strives to break down stereotypes about people and what it means to have an eating disorder. Playwright Rosenberg stated that she wanted to portray the experience in a real way and in a way that did not make the person look like a victim of their disease. The show strives to humanize the experience because it is something that so many people go through and many of us do not even recognize it.
When asked what the one thing that Rosenberg wanted audience members to walk away from the show learning, she hesitated, because “it is hard to just pick one.” However, after pondering a little more she said that the most important thing is to recognize that an eating disorder can be present in any one of any age, race or sexual orientation. It is not just something that happens to gymnasts or dancers. Most importantly, it is not something that should be glorified. These are things that Rosenberg and the cast worked very hard to ensure were authentic in the show.
Emma Johnson spoke more about what she took away from the experience and what she learned. “Not every eating disorder looks the same. It’s not the thin white girl who’s a ballerina or a gymnast. Anybody can go through it. Anybody from age six to 86 can experience an eating disorder,” said Johnson.
This is a show that carries a heavy weight and will hopefully have a strong impact on the community and allow for a conversation. “There aren’t accurate portrayals out there,” said Johnson. She continued, “It’s a community that needs that support. People that have eating disorders need to see their experience so that they know they can get through this and that they can get help and everything like that . . . it detypifies [eating disorders] and shows you that it’s not a pretty experience; like, your body goes through a lot of things that are really difficult.”
From scenes at the gym, college parties, therapy, the doctor, conversations about part-time jobs and balancing it all to conversations about what it is like to just be human, this piece of art is relatable to any one who walks through the theater doors. With such a diverse cast, it might be easy to see a part of yourself in each character or a part of someone you know in one of them. At the very least, you can relate to the story on some level.
Lauren Tetlow, who played Dr. Gayle, said that she will walk away from the show with more knowledge and understanding. The dramaturges were responsible for collecting research on eating disorders to share with the cast. This was crucial to Tetlow’s role as the psychologist. Tetlow says that she can walk away knowing that she has to tools to help someone who is dealing with an eating disorder and is grateful for the experience she has had.
“Never Have I Ever” may have taken a year to get here, but its run at WCU will be over in just a short time. Emma Johnson will be sad when that time comes to say goodbye to Miranda and her friends. “It’s going to be sad that it’s over because this has been a different experience than any show I have ever worked on, because we got to develop these characters, and you become very close with them . . . I as a person just happen to be very similar to my character, so it is going to be very sad to say goodbye to her. I am really proud and happy to have worked with all of these people; our director, stage mangers, the set and design team. Everyone that has been involved has been really great to work with. It is really rewarding as a college student and being so young that I’ve had this opportunity,” said Johnson.
Miranda, along with Ian, Callie, Arielle, Felipe, Dove and Dr. Gayle will only exist on West Chester’s stage for another week. The remaining dates are March 7 and 8 at 7:30 p.m. in Peter Adler Studio Theatre in E.O. Bull Center for the Arts.
Kaitlin Brinker is a fourth-year communication studies major with a minor in journalism. ✉ KB835149@wcupa.edu.