Trinity women express sincerity through comedy in student-created show, “Between Worlds: A Devised Piece”

(Co-written with Julia Poage)

The creators of “Between Worlds: A Devised Piece” breathe life into their work. As the performance begins — and, again, as it comes to its conclusion — the cast of nine women inhale and exhale, move in unison and lie on the stage as the stage lights brighten and dim. This dance is a succinct representation of the cast’s strong sense of community and vulnerability. They breathe slowly, gathering strength to perform this intimate piece.

There are two sets of footlights on the Stieren Theater stage for this performance: a set facing the actors, where they are expected to be, and a set facing the audience. The stage is a space separating the world of the audience filling the seats from an imagined audience at the back of the stage. To address this latter world, the performers must turn their backs on the Trinity students and guests in attendance. By eschewing the traditional theatrical practice of always facing the present audience, the cast of “Between Worlds” sheds their actress personas and reveal their unfiltered emotions.

The power of this work is primarily owed to its status as a devised piece, which Yesenia Caballero, junior English and theater double major and one of the creators of “Between Worlds,” explained as “a creation of everything that everybody loves.” In the program, the cast is listed as writers, creators and performers — since September, they have come together to share their experiences and inspirations with one another, aiming to build a comprehensive performance that represents all of their identities.

Several key themes emerge through their collaboration, such as the importance of expression, the duality of interpersonal relationships and a focus on abstract thought. Clear references to Tim O’Brien’s short story collection “The Things They Carried” and the film “The Wizard of Oz” structure the performance. These combined inspirations are what make the play a devised piece.

Caballero also described the show more informally.

“It’s nine girls playing dress-up for an hour and a half. But if I were to sell it, it’s so much more: if you love zombies, ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ singing, slam poetry, stand-up comedy, it is basically the grooviest open-mic night you will ever go to,” Caballero said.

Though there are elements of comedy and absurdism in the work, the performers’ main goal is to express their serious feelings through diverse methods of communication. Some moments are abstract, with messages sent through symbolic song and dance, while other scenes are spelled out clearly, with performers talking directly to the audience in a stand-up routine. The immediate effects of the piece can be overwhelming.

Jackson Beach, a property manager for the performance, was left uncertain of his emotions.

“It’s a lot of feelings all at once, and I think that’s maybe the point,” Beach said. “I’m between all my emotions, just as the show is about this space between worlds.”

“Between Worlds” places a thematic emphasis on the cast’s vulnerability. The performers revealed their emotional burdens via improvised interviews, spoken word poetry, song and dance, stand-up comedy and scripted sketches. The creative collaboration between the performers brings a level of authenticity to their work that is unique among Trinity productions.

“[‘Between Worlds’] was very personal — I think that’s something that not all of the Trinity performances have,” said sophomore audience member Elizabeth Metzger. “This fall season has been extremely personal, having things about sexual assault on campuses … along with things like this, written by actual performers. You see a lot of the actual students themselves, and that’s when they’re the best versions of actors, because they are relatable.”

Props are used sparingly, and the stage is completely free of any backdrops or permanent fixtures. This intentional decision by the production staff enhances the emotions expressed by the performers.

“I think [the set design] definitely helps convey that sense of creation — the show is presented in a way where anything can happen,” Beach said. “I think it really accentuates that untapped creative potential that the show is going for. It’s a very creative space, where any idea can come up and take hold.”

The performers also use sound to enhance the performance, which gives them greater creative influence over the show. Danielle Couch, the sound technician for “Between Worlds,” emphasized the amount of creative discretion the performers have during each showing.

“They were allowed to play with how close and how far they held the [microphones], which is very different from having a body mic on, which would just constantly be at the same level, and they’d have to use their voice. So it was interesting to see them play with a handheld mic to make artistic choices,” Couch said.

Through artistic collaboration, the cast has become palpably close, a feature of the performance that several audience members commented on. “[The cast’s community] is very strong, and I think you need that in a show like this, [which is] very abstract,” Beach said.

For over two months, students have been working together to create “Between Worlds: A Devised Piece.” The last performances are Friday, Nov. 18, and Saturday, Nov. 19, at 8 p.m. at Stieren Theater. Tickets are $6 for students.