Acting Students Delve Deep Into Personal Story for Solo Performance Festival

Acting student Treya Brown. Photo by Bob Toy.

The newly formed acting festival, headed up by Director of Theatre Programs Hector Zavala, is making its debut this week

By Cristina Schreil

Two students at Academy of Art University’s School of Acting (ACT) are delving inward and delivering raw vulnerability this Wednesday in the first annual Solo Performance Festival. 

The evening, titled “It’s Not Always Black and White,” features two one-person shows by students Samantha Girard and Treya Brown. The short plays are autobiographical; Girard draws upon formative memories of her grandmother and explores how their bond emboldened her artistry in “Sunshine with Rain Cloud.” Brown also explores connections—probing trust and intimate romantic relationships and linking her mother to her first boyfriend in “Backbone Broken and Still Standing.” Both are intimate, vulnerable portraits by the two actors—who dip between emotions and slip into memories via engaging storytelling and musical talents — who began developing these works just a few weeks ago partway into the fall semester.

The performances take place Wednesday, December 18 at 7 p.m. in Room 110 at 466 Townsend

It’s not just a first for the actors, who have never done a solo performance show, much less one built upon their own personal experiences. It’s the first time ACT has presented this festival. 

Acting student Treya Brown. Photo by Bob Toy.

The Solo Performance Festival was created by Director of Theatre Programs Hector Zavala. The initial spark was to provide students with theatre acting goals to bolster their resumes. Zavala explained that it’s not as if these students will graduate with a tangible portfolio of their work, compared to graphic design or photography students. “I want to make it a point that the students take something of value. Not just a learning experience or a demo reel—I want them to be ready to go out and work,” Zavala said. “At the very least they have a script or a one-person show that they can sell and get money for.”

Bringing that work to fruition has been an enriching challenge for both. In speaking during an initial rehearsal in November, Girard and Brown expressed some nervousness. 

“This is my first time doing anything like this. From when this semester started, I came in and I felt really fragile just in life,” Brown said. “Just in this semester alone, I’ve seen so much progress in myself.” Brown, whose cues from Zavala included writing to delve deep, said it’s powerful to “see things you are able to create just based on you taking the time and putting the energy into something.” She said Zavala’s guidance was pivotal. “Hector, one thing that he told me was don’t let your brain write for you. Just let it come out. What I ended up writing about was so much more.”

Acting student Samantha Girard. Photo by Bob Toy.

Over the weeks, in working with Zavala on their performances, they both honed their storytelling. In the dress rehearsal this week, Girard explained that she opted to refocus on the relationship with her grandmother, doing away with a storyline about a childhood crush to zero in on how her grandmother supported her art. She said that in mining her past for story details, it was “surreal” to return to these memories over and over. “I didn’t realize how much detail I remembered,” Girard said. In the process, she also realized that even though she’d only seen her grandmother, who recently passed away, about once a year at Christmastime, she was such a prominent figure in her life. Girard pivots between memories taking place at different times in her own narrative, and in order to make this clear for the audience, she and Zavala worked on creating spaces onstage. 

The week leading up to the performance, Girard and Brown also reflected on how honing their plays side by side enriched their acting. While they’ve been forging their own separate works, much of the process has been collaborative. “Sam just in general has a warmth to her. Hers is very subtle, it’s not in your face,” said Brown about Girard.  She added that she admires how Girard weaves song into her story—her songwriting and ukulele talents were an initial impetus for her play to begin with. Brown mused that the songs, written years ago by Girard, still resonate as true to this day. “Sam is extremely creative,” Brown reflected. 

Girard said that’s Brown’s performance, which swivels between joy and devastation on a dime, has helped her be stronger. “It really inspired me to be open and be vulnerable to the point where it’s scary,” Girard said. She added that Brown helps drill down and tap into universal experiences. “I very much empathize,” said Girard. “We all have stories to tell.”

A previous version of this story included a misspelling of Samantha Girard’s last name. We regret this error.

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