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Emotional Miss Julie explores gender roles, economic disparity

Emotional Miss Julie explores gender roles, economic disparity

By Victoria Ungvarsky

The turn of the 20th century revolutionized theatre and launched modernist drama ラ a movement characterized by the canon’s focus on naturalism. Led by playwrights such as Anton Chekov and Henrik Ibsen, it was in this new, innovative environment that August Strindberg wrote Miss Julie, a charged play about sex, gender roles and power in society.

Seniors Rachel Cunningham and Ryan Drake decided it was just the play they wanted for their senior thesis.

“When we first read it we said, ムI really like this, I react strongly to this, but I don’t really know what this is about. So let’s figure it out,'” Drake said.

The play, which will open the Kenyon College Dance and Dramatic Club’s season, centers on the power dynamic between Miss Julie, a young aristocratic woman, and Jean, a male servant. Miss Julie has status in society, yet her high position is limited by the constraints of her gender. In contrast, though Jean is a man, he lacks monetary authority. The play, considered avant-garde in its historical context, raises important questions about gender roles and power. “It’s a play that’s still extremely relevant to our lives, but it brings ナ to light issues that we pretend no longer exist in our society,” Cunningham said.

Though the production is only slightly over an hour, it promises to provide the audience with a visceral, emotional experience.

Miss Julie is a complex psychological piece, so it is not surprising that rehearsals have been intense. Initially, rehearsals were set to take place six times a week, but due to the heightened emotional atmosphere surrounding this play, Cunningham and Drake decided to cut them down to five. Even with this reduced schedule, they’ve sometimes cut a few rehearsals short, or changed plans for rehearsals, such as doing table reads ラ in which the actors rehearse around a table ラ rather than physically performing the scene.

“I’ve been in a couple of senior theses before, but I’ve never been in one where we had to say, ムOkay. We have to just take a step back and take a breather,’ and not push ourselves so much because we’re emotionally exhausted,” Cunningham said.

Drake agreed rehearsing for Miss Julie has been one of the most intense experiences of his life. “Once we’re out, I kind of feel like I need a half an hour to decompress. Rachel and I can’t really look each other in the eye for a good 10 minutes after. It’s a very intense process,” he said.

Although the show has been a challenge, it has been a welcome and exciting one for both seniors.

Additionally, Cunningham and Drake have worked with their faculty advisor, Professor of Drama Jon Tazewell, to enhance their performance. As an advisor, Tazewell’s job is to assist them and push them through the process of actualizing their performance.

“I meet students where they are, emotionally and psychologically, when they come to me about the play,” Tazewell said. “As we progress, I hope I can help them find greater understanding, greater emotional depth and courage to give their truest performance of these characters.”

Cunningham and Drake are grateful for the assistance Tazewell has provided. “Every week we meet with him and go over specific moments or questions we have in general,” Drake said. “He likes to give us notes about what could be clearer, because it really is a show where everything needs to be so clear.”

With opening night tomorrow, both actors are incredibly excited and nervous about their production, and to see the audience reaction.

Assistant Stage Manager Natasha Preston ’17 believes audiences will love the show and leave affected by the performance. “I remember the first time I saw the play all the way through, I was shaking by the end,” she said. “I was basically speechless.”

Both Cunningham and Drake hope audiences will be similarly affected by the power of the show.

“I’m really glad that we picked this play and I’m glad that it’s been a challenge, because that’s what I wanted to do for my senior exercise,” Cunningham said.

“It’s a show unlike what you’ve seen at Kenyon,” Drake said. “It’ll make you think.”

Miss Julie opens Friday, Oct. 4, at 8 p.m. at the Hill Theater.

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