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Ciara McAloon writes and directs first show for Silver Masque

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Ciara McAloon writes and directs first show for Silver Masque

Samantha Barry, assistant photo editor

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Last spring, Ciara McAloon was waiting for a bus at the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York when a common travel phrase caught her attention. “Attention all passengers” repeatedly blared through the loudspeaker as she waited, sparking an idea.

“I thought it would be a really funny format for a ten-minute play,” said McAloon, a second-year theater and English double major. “I just imagined this person that kept saying this phrase over and over with the most ridiculous things after it.”

Over the summer she wrote it up, titled it “Attention All Passengers,” and submitted it to Silver Masque, a student-run theater company on campus. By October, McAloon was preparing to put the show on for an audience in Ryder Theater. She joined Silver Masque her freshman year and is currently on the e-board as a member of the tech squad, handling lights, props, sets and other behind-the-scenes aspects.

Silver Masque’s main event, Fortnight, occurs every other Thursday in the Theater Lab at 11 p.m. McAloon described it as a cabaret-style open mic night where all students, not just theater majors, can sign up and perform. She has seen everything from song-and-dance routines to bizarre performance art.

Each Fortnight ends with a ten-minute play written and directed by students. Writers submit their plays before the start of the semester and the e-board picks five to six to be produced and put on throughout the year. McAloon went through the process and the e-board chose to produce her play.

“The selection process was a little difficult since I was on the e-board and they make the selections. I wasn’t allowed to tell anybody else I wrote it because we select plays blindly,” McAloon said. “We all met up and talked about the plays and it was terrifying to hear people discuss my work. They didn’t know it was me, but people ended up liking it.”

After the selection process, the e-board held casting, picked a producer and rehearsals started at the beginning of October. They set the show date for the 19th of the month, giving them only two weeks to get everything together.

McAloon drew inspiration for her piece from the NYC bus terminal, which is where the story takes place. In the play, a woman arrives at the terminal and begins waiting for a bus with other travelers. While they wait, an announcer continually comes over the loudspeaker and repeats the phrase “attention all passengers” followed by a ridiculous statement. One example is, “Attention all passengers: All buses going to the spikes have unintentionally melted.”

The longer they wait, the more outrageous the announcements and travelers get due to boredom. There’s yelling, fighting and a man clipping his toenails on stage, all of which culminate in the realization that their buses are never coming.

“At the end there’s this really big riot, which was sort of different every time we rehearsed,” said McAloon. “There was heavy strobe and screaming, a frying pan and people dropping dead, it was outrageous.”

McAloon described how she pushed the cast to be as weird as possible and follow their wildest impulses. She wanted everyone to vie for the audience’s attention.

“She is really interested in absurdism and she likes really funky, interesting things happening on stage,” said Emma Hunt, third-year theater major and fellow Silver Masque e-board and tech squad member. “We had a really big cast, nine people, so she did a really good job of collaborating with them and helping bring in their ideas while also keeping a really strong vision of what she wanted.”

Hunt also produced the play and handled many of the logistical elements so that McAloon could focus on her vision of the story. As producer, Hunt handled the scheduling of rehearsals, emailed the cast with updates, kept track of set design, props and costumes, coordinated lighting and served as support for McAloon.

The support was much needed, with McAloon in the unique position of being both the writer and director of the play. Typically for Silver Masque productions, the roles go to two separate people, but McAloon wanted to take on the challenge of doing both.

“I had never written a play before this, so this was very exciting for me. I had directed one thing previously my senior year of high school, but I never had experienced directing my own work,” McAloon said. “I often felt like I was wearing two hats at the same time and it was difficult to know if I should have both on or one at a time.”

She also said being both writer and director took much of the guesswork out of making sense of the show. Knowing exactly what she meant in each scene helped making cuts to the script easier and gave her more freedom to direct the play in exactly the way she wanted.

According to Hunt, audiences reacted well to the play and appreciated McAloon’s over-the-top style humor. She herself was proud of the way it turned out and said writing and completing her first play was very fulfilling.

“I was there for every step of conceptualization and followed it from birth to performance. I had two weeks of stress dreams about it, but when it was performed I was pleased with the result,” McAloon said.

Silver Masque is one of the few organizations on campus that allows students to showcase their skills in this way. Hunt believes this is beneficial not just for theater majors, but for students of all disciplines.

“There’s a big commitment to producing student work which is really nice because it means anyone can participate,” Hunt said.  “It’s become a really nice communal gathering place and community for people who really like the performing arts to come even if they aren’t necessarily studying it as their major.”

As for McAloon, she wants to continue to write and direct more shows for Silver Masque. Although she said it is intense, and a big time commitment, she thinks it’s fun and enjoys theater as a creative outlet.

In the end, the play left some questions unanswered. What was the symbolism behind the dead-end bus terminal, crazy cast of travelers, and the repetitive announcer? What did it all mean?

“It’s not that deep. I just hate Port Authority,” McAloon said.

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Ciara McAloon writes and directs first show for Silver Masque