Play inspired by experience

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February 11, 2011

12:35 AM

When does taking a standard GER class lead to a $1,000 check?

Last month, Amanda Andrei ’10 won first place in the Ontario-based Bottle Tree Production’s International One Act Play Competition. The prize isn’t just commendatory; Andrei should soon be receiving a $1,000 check for her script “Every Night I Die.”

During her senior year, Andrei had yet to fulfill her GER 6. She originally wanted to take creative writing but couldn’t secure a spot in the class. Instead she looked for a class that would require little time — and no money.

“Playwriting seemed like the next best thing,” Andrei said.

Andrei has a background in theater. At Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Va., Andrei had dabbled in theater as an actor, a tech. crewmember and production manager. Her extracurricular involvement in theater spilled over to her time at the College of William and Mary: she was involved in Shakespeare in the Dark, directed an IPAX Show, participated in the 24-Hour Play Festival, and had a minor role in Jason Blackwell’s ’10 senior directorial.

Students in theater professor Rob Ruffin’s playwriting class spend the semester evolving a script from a single sentence, into a cast of fleshed-out characters, into a production-ready, one-act play around 50 pages in length.

“Over the course of the semester, I read six different drafts of a student’s play. It’s an intensive process,” Ruffin, a seasoned theater professional who has worked as a producer, director, writer, dramaturge and actor, said.

Andrei, who is Filipino-Romanian, was the president of the Filipino-American Students Association and the first student at the College to study abroad in the Philippines. She drew upon her strong ties to the island nation as inspiration for her tragic love story.

“Every Night I Die” is based on a story set in the 1930s Philippines that Andrei heard from her cousin: A married Catholic man, Angelo Caritan, has an affair with the family’s Muslim maid. In retaliation, Angelo’s brother-in-law slaughters the maid — and the whole household.

“My family is Protestant-Filipino, which is really rare. When I was the president of FASA, I’m pretty sure I was the only Protestant. Most of the Philippines is Catholic, but there is religious tension in the Southern Philippines because of the Muslim population,” Andrei said.

Andrei’s script is anchored in Filipino culture, and traditional folklore is woven throughout “Every Night I Die” in both its themes and symbols.

“When I studied abroad in the Philippines, we were driving through the mountains and untouched jungles. My friend pointed to this banana tree…it looked like a giant hand; the bananas were pointing to the sky like fingers. He said the middle of the banana bunch was like a heart — you can get a magic ‘anting-anting,’ the Tagalog word for amulet. The story goes that the amulet falls from the tree and renders special powers to the recipient,” Andrei said.

The main character, Angelo Caritan, receives an “anting-anting” that drives him to set aside his failing marriage and pursue pure, passionate love in a dangerous relationship.

“It is a complicated story. At the heart of the story is the love that you can’t have. What makes it different and special is the Filipino folklore,” Andrei said.

Andrei not only used traditional Filipino culture, but he also pulled imagery from contemporary Filipino poetry, which she studied in bilingual poetry books while learning Tagalog in the Philippines. This method infuses the characters’s dialogue with a lyricism representative of the Philippines.

“[‘Every Night I Die’] is one of the best plays that’s been developed in my playwriting class. It’s beautifully written. In its examination of the conflict of religions and conflict of outside culture and indigenous cultures — it’s epic,” Ruffin said.

Ruffin encouraged Andrei to submit “Every Night I Die” to several playwriting competitions. The first prize she won was the Howard D. Scammon Prize for Best Play at the College.

“The funniest part was they posted the literary prize in the theater and english departments,” Andrei said, “The students in those departments were like, ‘Who is Amanda Andrei?’”

She stumbled upon Bottle Tree Production’s one-act script contest and submitted her play on a whim. At the very least, winning first prize is free publicity, but Andrei hopes “Every Night I Die” has a future on the stage.

“Every Night I Die” premiered last March at the student-run Premier Theater, which features student playwrights’s work.

“Amanda’s work translated from script to stage beautifully. Sometimes that’s not the case,” Ruffin said. “The production was fraught with errors, like actors dropping out at the last minute. When this happens and a play still works, then the play is good. Amanda’s play definitely stood up to the task.”

Andrei said she hopes her one-act play can be produced in the Washington, D.C. area, where she is currently working at a non-profit think tank and completing her masters in computational social science at George Mason University. If Andrei’s play is back on the stage, she said she would like both to co-produce and to be involved in the creative process.

“Ruffin always said a play is like a baby, like a child,” Andrei said, “I never got it until I saw people speaking the words of my play out loud. He said a play was like a child that would grow up. It’s so true.”

She said she would like to continue playwriting as a hobby, especially since this experience has conclude with such positive results.

“When you’re writing plays, you’re creating your own universe. On the first day of class, Rob Ruffin said something like, ‘When you write a play, do you not choose if these people live or die? You are God. You are writing these peoples’ fates’. It’s surprising where it takes you, and it reveals a lot about yourself. I couldn’t believe I wrote everything that I did.”

According to Ruffin, many students have a reaction similar to Andrei’s.

“The process of creating art is a process of self-discovery,” he said. “Art is an extension of an individual. Creating it is a journey of self-discovery.”

Ruffin would also like to see “Every Night I Die” on stage again, although he noted that as a one-act play it has production limitations. He would eventually like to see Andrei develop the script into a full-length play.

“Amanda came into my class being an anthropology student and left being a playwright. It’s an exciting thing for me to watch, especially because we need new writers and new voices.”

Andrei’s favorite part of this experience?

“When I get the check, I’ll let you know.”

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