Audience members at the December premiere of Play would have been forgiven for thinking they’d accidentally walked into soccer practice rather than the Wallace Theater at the Lewis Center for the Arts. But that was exactly the point of the production: to bring what happens on and off the field, court, and pool to the stage.
As onlookers took their seats before the show began, a dozen or so students wearing matching blue and green sweatsuits stretched, passed and dribbled soccer balls, and casually chatted with one another on the stage, which was covered in artificial turf.
The 45 minutes that followed consisted of more than a dozen athletics-related scenes the students wrote themselves and staged with the help of Aaron Landsman, a lecturer in theater and director of Play, and Ogemdi Ude ’16, co-director and choreographer.
“Every day, we would come in and we would create something that we weren’t expecting, so that felt very awesome and creative and spontaneous and unique.”— Grace Wang ’26
The cast and crew involved in the production included class members of “Theater Rehearsal and Performance” and volunteers. And while some students had absolutely no interest in athletics, others played on teams ranging from club to varsity, including water polo, cheerleading, and volleyball.
Using a process known as devised theater, or collaborative work made by an ensemble, the students first started to create what became Play by writing down their thoughts on athletics; they also interviewed student-athletes and read material including a monologue by Luke Aschenbrand ’22, a former Princeton football player.
“We just kind of threw everything at the wall and saw what stuck, and I feel like most of what the students brought to the table was used in some way,” said Ude, who also transformed warm-up exercises into choreographed portions of the performance.
“Every day, we would come in and we would create something that we weren’t expecting, so that felt very awesome and creative and spontaneous and unique,” said Grace Wang ’26, who became involved after auditioning at Try On Theater Days.
The end result was a series of arguably stand-alone yet connected pieces that touched on themes like the stigma of quitting, team spirit, and the desire for greatness.
The cast and crew put on a show that only this exact set of actors and collaborators could have created and performed. With devised theater, “the process changes depending on who’s in the room,” according to Landsman.
Computer science major Zach Lopez ’23 said the group “got to write a lot of things, collaborate with each other, and we very much formed a team.” After the final whistle blew, he said, the performers’ hope is that the audience “was able to be part of that experience of creating this piece with us.”