Theater students ponder the universe in capstone performance “Eight Minutes”

Performances tackle climate change, humanity, space and more

Theater students ponder the universe in capstone performance “Eight Minutes”
Seniors in AU's theater program "stargaze" in their capstone performance, "Eight Minutes." The production is in response to Carl Sagan's "Cosmos," which the seniors read in their capstone course.

After a semester of perfecting their capstone performances, AU’s theater program seniors presented “Eight Minutes,” a series of pieces in response to Carl Sagan’s book, “Cosmos” from Dec. 5 to Dec. 7.

The show, which involved 11 student performance teams sharing their eight-minute pieces, tackled issues of climate change, space, the afterlife, love and the humanity encompassing it all. Seniors majoring or minoring in the theater department made up the cast and crew — acting, designing, writing, researching and directing their labor of love.

The pieces ranged from an intergalactic middle school play to a dinner date love confession, with several pieces discussing climate change and the end of the world as we know it. What connects them all? Senior Mercedes Blankenship, a musical theater student, said it’s the concept of the cosmos and the vast expansiveness of the universe.

Blankenship said that after reading “Cosmos” and plays such as “Constellations” by Nick Payne, professors Tara Giordano and Colleen Sullivan broke the students into teams. They were tasked with creating performances based on what they had learned in both the capstone course and other theater classes at AU.

“They could be weird and they could be different because they were all sort of founded in this idea of ‘Cosmos,’” she said. “This is the basis of our piece; how big and wild and weird can you get with it? And we got real wild and weird with it.”

Some other pieces included a break-up-esque monologue from the “Sun,” played by Rachel Moseley, as she harps on humankind for taking her for granted, contrasted with several scenes where the sun disappears forever. In one scene, a sunbathing teen, played by Isabelle Jennings Pickering, desperately tries to “fix” the world after the sun disappears with her towel, showing the audience that when it comes to saving our planet, it is too little too late.

Not all the scenes ended on a discouraging note — one scene involved “God” comforting a recently deceased woman as she ponders the meaning of life. He reassures her that he created the universe just for her, leaving the audience wondering about their own existence.

Others were filled with humor. One scene involved a group of clowns humorously trying to build a vehicle to presumably transport them to outer space. Another played on the comedy and triviality of middle school plays, complete with outer space-themed musical numbers, overly enthusiastic middle schoolers and one crying 13-year-old character.

Blankenship’s scenes included the middle school musical, “Grover Middle School Proudly Presents … ,” and “Heartstring Landscape,” which she directed, wrote and acted in. She said that the concept for “Heartstring Landscape” came from a piece she had written before, from “Constellations” and another play, “Sure Thing,” by David Ives.

“It was a very fraught piece because it was very personal and scary and vulnerable,” she said. 

Blankenship said that, although all of the pieces were personal in their own way, they all connected in a transitional song composed by senior Catherine Ashley. Only illuminated by candles, the cast joined together on stage to grace the audience with an eerie a cappella piece highlighting their collective sound.

“We all wanted a relatively cohesive show because sometimes capstones can feel like a bunch of people’s pet projects … and I think having the through-line connection of some sort makes it feel like an actual cohesive thing, and I think that song had a part in making that happen,” Blankenship said. 

“Eight Minutes” accomplished exactly what it intended — it gave the audience a glimpse at the overwhelming expansiveness of the universe and the moving parts within it. 

With incredible dancing articulating the natural world, captivating scenes between actors and a breathtaking shadow puppet masterpiece demonstrating the hope and beauty of life, “Eight Minutes” reminded its audience how small, yet important, humanity is. It also provided a grave lesson — that we must not take the home we know for granted in the face of climate change.

cmulroy@theeagleonline.com

Never miss a story

Get our weekly newsletter delivered right to your inbox.

More from The Eagle