Under the lights, CMC student theater dazzles at second annual One Act Plays Festival

In front of a crowd of people, a woman in a yellow shirt and a man in a grey suit and red turban point at each other.
Claremont McKenna College’s Under the Lights Theatre Club hosted its second annual One Act Plays Festival at Pickford Auditorium on Nov. 15. (Max Weirauch • The Student Life)

Beneath the stage lights at Claremont McKenna College’s Pickford Auditorium, a marriage, a first date, a murder mystery and an overstayed vacation came to life, one after the other.

Under the Lights Theatre Club — CMC’s oldest club and only performing arts and theater group — hosted its second annual One Act Plays Festival on Nov. 15.

At this year’s festival, Hannah Thalberg SC ’22, Nandini Mittal CM ’22, Abelino Fernandez Leger CM ’22, Shania Sharma CM ’22 and Sadie Fisher CM ’20 directed five different one-act plays that they’ve been working on since auditions were held in September.

The directors reviewed a multitude of plays over the summer, narrowing the potential plays down to five over the course of several weeks, and promptly held auditions once the fall semester began.

“You would audition with the script of these plays, and that was the test for your acting ability,” said Mittal, director of “Post-Its (Notes on a Marriage)” and one of the presidents of UTL. “Then, all of the directors collectively battled out who they wanted for each play.” 

Once students were cast in their roles, each director held rehearsals twice a week until “tech week,” when the directors reunited and ran all of their plays consecutively.

The five plays, when performed one after the other, made for a truly eclectic show.

“This year, we wanted to spice up the genres that we put on stage, because UTL is historically known for putting on comedies,” Mittal said. “We wanted to turn our audience’s focus towards a wider variety of plays. Branching out was difficult, but it was just a matter of having the directors direct plays that they were interested in.”

Performances at the One Act Plays Festival ranged from horror pieces to a comedy-mystery adaptation of the family-fun board game Clue.

Thalberg directed “Jubilation, Mississippi,” a “The Twilight Zone”-inspired horror piece that came naturally for her and helped diversify the festival’s genres.

“I decided on ‘Jubilation, Mississippi’ because I’m a really big fan of ‘The Twilight Zone,’ and I’m also a big spooky fan,” Thalberg said. “I feel as though directing comedy is hard to do, so I tended to steer towards a drama which is a vessel that people don’t normally do.”

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Diya Courty-Stephens CM ’23 played Stella, a waitress who puts the town under an alluring spell in “Jubilation, Mississippi.” She was excited to be a part of the One Act Plays Festival because it was her first dive into acting at the 5Cs.

“I heard about auditions from [a friend]. He told me to come to rehearsals the first day, and I just immediately loved the energy,” she said.

Alessia Zanobini CM ’23, an actor in the play “Murder at Merryweather Mansion,” also had a positive experience during the festival process that kept her coming back for more.

“UTL was a good fit because it was mostly CMC students who [are] also into theater,” Zanobini said. “UTL also had a manageable rehearsal schedule while still being a legitimate club. It’s super nice to have friends [and] mentors who appreciate theater, especially at CMC.”

For Thalberg, collaboration with her actors was key to her mentorship.

“The process was very collaborative,” Thalberg said. “I let the actors do what they wanted and if there was something that I wanted to tweak, I would. I let their words and their minds create this image, and it worked really well.”

Like Zanobini, Courty-Stephens appreciated the mentorship she was given from her director, who helped her better understand her role and get into character.

“I was able to get in touch with my character by … [receiving] notes from [Thalberg] about letting our personal experiences outside of the stage come on stage and help shape our character,” she said.

Audience members from across the 5Cs came for intrigue, friendship and amusement.

“I wanted to come and see what theater at the 5Cs looks like and support my friends [at the same time],” Aditi Madhok PZ ’23 said.

Ishta Nabakka SC ’23 attended the festival because they wanted to see something different than they’d seen in the past.

“I’ve been to a lot of improv shows at Scripps, but I’ve never been to any of the other student-run theater groups,” they said. “This is a nice way to spend a Friday night.”

Indeed, it was. In just one hour, audience members were cracking up, tearing up and solving mysteries.

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