The Arena Theater black box will be home to the opening performance of “Sitting Alone: A Play about Loneliness at Wheaton” on Friday, Dec. 14.
The piece is the brainchild of senior Sarah Neff, who began writing the play as a class project for a course called Theater and Culture last semester.
Neff, having heard many complaints about loneliness while involved in Residence Life, wanted to promote discussion about what makes Wheaton students feel this way. From there, Neff developed “Sitting Alone,” a play based on interviews she conducted with students.
According to Neff, the show is a “broad discussion about the things that hold us together as a campus, but in those common things, anyone who’s an outlier will feel isolation.”
Neff explained her initial observations of loneliness at Wheaton.
“I see a lot of Wheaton students caring about issues really passionately, but only about things that are external to the students here,” Neff said. “That’s really valid, and there are great causes all over the world, but I was noticing the themes of social neuroses and feeling alone when I talked with students.”
Neff said that “many (students) wondered if it was something wrong with them, something wrong with the place or something not even wrong.”
It was these findings that piqued Neff’s interest.
“I had all these questions floating around in my head and was curious what it would look like to make theater specifically about Wheaton,” she said.
“I started just asking questions,” Neff said. “Then talking to people turned into formal interviews.”
The show is based on 20 such interviews, as well as many other casual conversations.
The script was developed to tell the stories of six composite characters created from the stories many students had told.
“Sitting Alone” developed into an independent study conducted by Neff under the supervision of Michael Stauffer, co-director of Arena Theater.
“At first, (Theater and Culture culminated in) a cold reading, but it didn’t quite feel done to me,” Neff said.
Upon completion of the class, Neff expanded the script, met with Student Care, brought actors together and began to develop the piece more fully.
The play follows themes Neff found in her interviews. These ideas included the pressure to be spiritually confident and to engage in perfectionism.
On spirituality, Neff said, “(Students wonder), ‘What do I do if I don’t believe in God, if I am struggling with my faith?”
Further, Neff said, “I also explored weird social neuroses everyone has but we don’t think others have, like walking into (the cafeteria) and scanning for people but trying not to look like it. There’s also the drive toward perfectionism.”
Senior Peter Thompson, one of the actors in Neff’s play, said, “‘Sitting Alone’ is important because it brings up issues that a lot of people have but are usually not talked about.”
Junior Mallory Alpert, another actor in the piece, expressed a connection with the play.
“The piece is immensely important because it is so honest,” Alpert said. “I find myself saying or thinking the lines throughout my day because I could have said them.”
The play has also had a freeing effect on Alpert, letting her know there are others who struggle with loneliness.
“The piece has freed me. I can feel lonely, and I can be alone because I understand this is how others feel, too. The piece is trying to give us a starting place to talk about these things.”
When asked if she had any advice for students struggling with loneliness, she said, “I’d say it’s normal; you’re not the only one. It’s okay to own (your struggle), claim it and fight against it, but it’s not a fault in your character or a flaw in the way you’re living your life.”
Neff explained that this was her motivation to write the play.
“That’s why I wanted to write the piece,” Neff said. “To say, ‘What do we as a community say to members who are not okay, who are struggling? How do we love and protect them?’ But, it’s not even a ‘them’ thing; it’s an ‘us’ thing. How do we care for people who are a part of this body?”
“Sitting Alone” will be performed on Friday, Dec. 14, and Saturday, Dec. 15. Showings are at 7 p.m. on Friday and at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. on Saturday.
The show takes place in the Arena Theater black box in Jenks Hall.
Admission is free. The play’s run time is 35 to 40 minutes.
After the performances, there will be a talkback about the show.
Photo Courtesy: Sarah Neff
Printed in the December 14, 2012, issue of The Wheaton Record. Send comments to email@example.com.