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Penn State Theatre Studies Program’s ‘Mock’ Explores Healing After Tragedy

In collaboration with the School of Theatre, the Penn State B.A. Theatre Studies Program will present “Mock,” a new play, in its world premiere on Monday, October 24, at the Downtown Theatre. 

Written by third-year student Miriam Colvin and directed by Dr. Jeanmarie Higgins, head of the B.A. Theatre Studies program, “Mock” tells the story of a high school mock trial team navigating collegiate life while pursuing national status as both friends and competitors.

Struck by tragedy as a young freshman, Julie is betrayed by a teammate. The play sets the scene with flashbacks of lighthearted college days and a darkened courtroom setting, slowly blurring the line of reality as absurdity and detriment befall the once-hopeful young team.

With dynamic dialogue and careful staging, the production engages the audience throughout the entire act, painting a careful picture of life before and after tragedy recognizable to victims and families everywhere. When first sitting down to create the original piece last year, Colvin knew how important this honest representation and resulting conversation would be for the Penn State community. 

“I’ve seen how women are still treated and how many sexual assaults still happen on campus,” Colvin said. “It’s something that I feel very passionate about, and I really want to fix, and it is still kind of absurd to me that things like this still happen to so many people around me.”

Beginning the writing process last summer, Colvin has spent countless hours brainstorming, imagining, and editing the work, backed up by her cast and crew of students. A culmination of all their efforts, the finished production emphasizes Colvin’s original message with accuracy for the audience.

“As an artist, I feel like I can make the most change through art and through my writing,” Colvin said. “With this play, I wanted to talk about those things and hopefully create some kind of change on campus.”

Prioritizing conversation as the end goal of the process, Colvin found her director quite close to home as the perfect candidate: Head of the B.A. Theatre Studies Program Dr. Jeanmarie Higgins.

“We always go to Jeanmarie’s office when we need a pep talk… We are all very close with her.” Colvin said. “It’s a friend, it’s a mentor, so it’s been really easy to just say, ‘do your thing.’”

Colvin has stayed dedicated to the production from start to finish, an example of artistic integrity also held closely by each member of the cast as well.  

“This is about Miriam’s play, and so a lot of what the actors do is think about how to bring this new play into the world in the most authentic way they can, in a way that serves Miriam’s vision,” Higgins said. “…They are learning really amazing skills, too, for their field in that they are learning how to work on new plays, which they are actually terrific at.”

Courtesy of Joyce Jiang

Mentoring students and directing the production, Higgins spoke to the nature of her role as both mentor and supporter of B.A. Theatre Studies students at Penn State. 

“The most important thing that a theater program can do right now is to support new work, new plays, and new performance,” Higgins said. ”… Heading up the BA program is a real pleasure because my job is to respond to the new work that the students are creating by mentoring them as a dramaturg… to shepherd new work into the world.”

Supporting Colvin and her cast throughout “Mock,” Higgins allowed growth and life to reflect in the performance. As the cast stepped into each dynamic character, Colvin found inspiration to adapt her script, constantly reworking the piece in a commitment to a collaborative vision. 

“They’ve made choices and decisions about the characters that have made me do re-writes and better depict the characters that they’ve found,” Colvin said. “We started this bare bones, a rough draft, and over these weeks, they’ve truly crafted these characters and created them into something I didn’t even think they could become.” 

As casting created layered characterization within the process, “Mock” has grown from an early table read with friends to a full-scale production, complete with standout visual imagery, symbolic staging of absurdity against reality, and a soundtrack representative of humanity’s struggle to overcome divisive tragedy.

Another key element exists in the title of the work itself, as Colvin explained the duality of the word that guided her vision of the mock trial team each step of the way. 

“I love this idea that ‘mock,’ just the word itself, can be mocking someone,” Colvin said. “It has double meaning and it’s kind of like how Julie is treated inhumanely and even treats herself that way when trying to convince herself out of all these things.”

Courtesy of Joyce Jiang

Reimagining the work constantly with an artistic mindset, Colvin has stayed true to her original image, adapting the production as the cast fulfilled their role. Playing the lead female role of freshman Julie, second-year Kylee Waller explained her perspective on the production as she earned her first major part with the School of Theatre.

“It was a little scary at first, but I’m working with really talented people, and everyone brings something special and something different to each of the characters,” Waller said. “Everyone in the cast has been so supportive of everyone, so it’s been a really fun group of people to work with.” 

The cast of “Mock” brought life to Colvin’s vision, much aligned with the greater message of the story itself. 

“It’s about not letting trauma define you and to not let other people or big institutions tell you what you should do…” Colvin said. “At the end of the day…it’s all about having other people there around you, to support you.”

Three performances of “Mock” will play at 7 p.m. on Monday, October 24, Tuesday, October 25, and Wednesday, October 27, in the Penn State Downtown Theatre. Tickets can be reserved here, and a trigger warning is emphasized for sexual violence, language, alcohol use, and loud noises.

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About the Author

Lizzie Palmieri

Lizzie is a junior majoring in marketing and psychology from Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Ask her about Disney World, Diet Pepsi, or dancing on the Jumbotron at Beaver Stadium. When not causing general trouble, Lizzie enjoys playing golf, performing in the theatre, and being the CEO of reorganizing the fridge. Her favorite thing to do is hang out with her sassy sidekick, 18-year-old Italian Greyhound, Macaroni. Follow her on Twitter @lizziepalmieri if your deepest desire is bestie vibes only.

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