Placing the spotlight on women: Sarah Marksteiner describes her feminist play, creation of theatre company Class Act

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Sarah Marksteiner describes her feminist play, creation of theatre company Class Act. COURTESY PHOTO / SARAH MARKSTEINER

As a little girl, Sarah Marksteiner ’19 fell in love with theatre and acting on stage. Marksteiner carried this passion to the College of William and Mary, since her freshman year that she wanted to pursue a career in theatre after graduation 

Rather than taking the traditional route by going to a conservatory for her higher education, Marksteiner decided to attend the College to maintain studying other subjects as well. She will be graduating this year with a bachelor’s degree in theatre and a minor in marketing.  

During the first week of classes her freshman year, Marksteiner auditioned for a part in the Pulitzer Prize winning play Seascape,” written by playwright Edward Albee. She landed her first role with the College’s theatre scene playing a lizard.   

“It’s a great surrealist play about two couples,” Marksteiner said. “It’s an older couple that’s going through some marital progression with their life, and [they] encounter two anthropomorphic lizards that are a couple. It’s this crazy but beautiful play, and I played a lizard. That was great telling my family about college theatre.”  

This year, Marksteiner participated in a variety of different productions, wearing many different hats for each of the shows. She was the producer of the “Drowsy Chaperone, which was performed by Sinfonicron Light Opera Company, a student-run theatre company. 

Marksteiner also recently acted in “[title of show], a senior directorial musical directed by Conor Wilson ’19. The show is an eclectic portrayal of four people coming together to write a musical, and it provided Marksteiner with an interesting and intimate final theatre experience at the College 

“I say I specialize as an actor,” Marksteiner said. “I came right off of doing [Sinfonicron] where I was in a very administrative role, working with the development side and the financial side of theatre, which is important but not necessarily fulfilling in the same way, so coming off that and working with in this show with cast of five that was so intimate and so fun, was so special for me.” 

“I say I specialize as an actor,” Marksteiner said. “I came right off of doing [Sinfonicron] where I was in a very administrative role, working with the development side and the financial side of theatre, which is important but not necessarily fulfilling in the same way, so coming off that and working with in this show with cast of five that was so intimate and so fun, was so special for me.” 

Marksteiner explained that “[title of show]” felt very surreal for her, since she and actors in “[title of show],” Alex Poirier ’19 and Alex Bulova ’19, have created their own theatre company with some other colleagues called Class Act Players where they write and perform original shows.   

Class Act Players will be entering its fifth season this summer. Every year, the theatre company puts on its own show and performs at events like the Capital Fringe Festival. Marksteiner will be working with the company this summer and will teach a workshop in addition to putting on the Capital Fringe Festival show.  

For the Capital Fringe Festival, Class Act Players is putting on a jazz musical that attempts to introduce improvisation into a musical theatre setting. She will also be teaching a four-week workshop to high school students where they will be directing a performance of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest, which she hopes will sufficiently expose students to all aspects of theatre. 

“How do you advertise a show?” Marksteiner said. How do you fundraise if you don’t have enough money and you want to do a show? All of that kind of logistical stuff that is pretty serious. The business of theatre is never taught in high school to my knowledge. I’ve never known anyone who learned about the business side of theatre anywhere at 17 or 18, which I think sets up young theatre makers in a really unfortunate position because there are so many parts of theatre you aren’t exposed to until so much later. You have the agency and power to be doing that younger than people are.”  

After the summer, Marksteiner is not sure where her plans will take her but intends to reside in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area while assisting with Class Act and auditioning for shows.  

“I might see a casting call and they’ll need me in rehearsal that next week,” Marksteiner said. “It’s kind of hard to plan that far ahead with the kind of work I’m interested in doing.”  

In addition to all her work with Class Act and other performances at the College, Marksteiner finished her senior thesis in the fall. Many of Marksteiner’s favorite plays stem from the classical period and the heightened world of Greek tragedy and Shakespeare plays, but she often feels conflicted by the western, white male narrative told through these plays.  

In that light, Marksteiner decided to create a companion play to Shakespeare’s “Cymbeline” by examining the role of the evil queen and her journey up until “Cymbeline” begins. Marksteiner wrote the play for the American Shakespeare Centers Shakespeare New Contemporary Competition. Marksteiner named the evil queen Althea as a nod to Althea Hunt, who founded the College’s theatre department. 

“I was interested in looking at the role of women, plus theatre practitioners, in the classical sphere because all the plays are written by men, they’re super old, they’re written to be performed by men, even though I think there are some great female characters in there,” Marksteiner said. I’m interested in how we can be in relationship with those texts in a way that more accurately speaks to the diversity of this community.” 

“I was interested in looking at the role of women, plus theatre practitioners, in the classical sphere because all the plays are written by men, they’re super old, they’re written to be performed by men, even though I think there are some great female characters in there,” Marksteiner said. I’m interested in how we can be in relationship with those texts in a way that more accurately speaks to the diversity of this community.” 

Marksteiner ended up being a semifinalist for the competition and held a stage reading of the play in the fall to present her thesis. She hopes to continue creating classical plays in the future that challenge heteronormative narratives. Currently, she has her eye on some D.C. companies, including an all-female one dedicated to Shakespeare.  

“I think [theatre] is one of the rare places where strangers will enthusiastically come into a room and say, ‘I will consider for the next hour, next two hours what it’s like to be someone else,’” Marksteiner said. “I just don’t think that happens in other places.”  

“I think [theatre] is one of the rare places where strangers will enthusiastically come into a room and say, ‘I will consider for the next hour, next two hours what it’s like to be someone else,’” Marksteiner said. “I just don’t think that happens in other places.”