Senior thesis ‘Night, Mother’ enraptures its audience

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For this week’s review of a senior thesis, I interviewed Cassie Padilla ’17, a theater major, about the riveting play that she is directing.

Jenna Swartz: What was the play that you produced/directed last term?

Cassie Padilla: The play I am directing is called “Night, Mother” by Martha Norman. It is about an outwardly normal girl named Jesse, who calmly informs her mother, Thelma, that she’s about to commit suicide. Her statement sets the stage for a war of nerves between the determined Jessie and the distraught Mama, who uses every emotional and psychological device at her disposal to delay and deny the inevitable.

Actresses Shauntai Quinton and Florainne Walcott-Taylor in Padilla’s production of “Night, Mother.” Courtesy of Cassie Padilla
Actresses Shauntai Quinton and Florainne Walcott-Taylor in Padilla’s production of “Night, Mother.” Courtesy of Cassie Padilla

JS: Why did you produce/direct it instead of acting in it?

CP: For a play production, the Theater Department requests that you either direct or act in your senior thesis (doing both at the same time is rather difficult). Additionally, I wasn’t a good fit for either of the roles. So I needed to find the strongest and most talented actresses I could find to handle such a taboo subject. But casting my show was fairly easy since I knew I wanted Shauntai Quinlon and Florainne Walcott-Taylor in my thesis since junior year.

JS: What did you learn from that experience?

CP: I learned a lot about myself, as corny as it sounds. Before organizing my production, I was trying to figure out what kind of director I was. It’s not as easy as just thinking about it. You have to do it. It was slow at first, but once I started to solidify my directing techniques during rehearsals, with my theater professors challenging me with questions about my production, I slowly began to see myself as a director and be confident in giving myself that title.

JS: Did the play turn out how you hoped it would?

CP: Even better. When I saw the first run-through of the play, I was stunned at what I had created. There was laughter, tears, a desire to learn more about these characters and a flow within the set as if they had lived there for years. But after every run-through and into the final performances, I was genuinely surprised every time I saw it from start to finish. My actors did something new each night to create more of the laughs and tears, because they understood who they were and weren’t afraid to step out of their comfort zones. It was beautiful. I can’t thank my actors enough for bringing this play to life.

JS: Why do you want to turn it into a movie this term?

CP: My two-term senior thesis focus is on the comparisons and contrasts between theater and film directing. In the fall, I performed the play as a theater production and it was a huge hit with the people who attended. This term, I converted the play into a screenplay and will be filming it at a nearby location with the same actors. I will only be filming the last 20 minutes of the play, because it would be a hell if I tried to film the whole play. I am converting it into a film, because this type of medium can offer up a mix of emotions with the wide range of shots available in film production and have full control of what the audience can see (which will help to show the significance within every scene).

JS: What elements do you hope will be the same/different from the play and the movie?

CP: I am hoping to evoke the same emotions that I managed to conjure in the audience from the play, but push it to the next level. Instead of being set on a stage, I scouted out a location that is similar to Mama’s home in the play and will be using the space wisely, so the actors use all of the space. I also feel symbolism is common in films and will be using a lot of symbolic shots to help the audience understand the plot, since we are starting towards the end of the play.

JS: What are your plans for the future relating to producing/directing? How do you think this two term thesis, and for that matter, all the experiences you’ve had at the Union theater department has influenced your goals/passions?

CP: In the future, I am planning to work at different theatres across the U.S. to get a robust exposure to the arts and then go to graduate school for an MFA in Directing (hopefully at NYU). This two term thesis and my Theater Department experiences have honestly made me into the person I am today. Without the support of my professors (Professor Finlay and Professor Culbert to be exact), I wouldn’t have discovered my love and talent for directing.

After taking Intro to Directing in the fall of my junior year, I took any opportunity I could in the theatre from stage managing to acting to solidify my love for the theatre. I have also observed my professors in action as they directed their productions, and from watching their shows, I knew I wanted to aspire to be a theater director. I will do it, no matter what it takes.

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