This past weekend, the ECFS theatre and dance department presented The Armor Plays: Cinched and Strapped, a pair of plays written by Selina Fillinger, who was also in attendance. The production was directed by Clare Mottola, chair of the theater and dance department, with assistant direction by Margo M. ’21 and Will H. ’19. ECFS is the first school to produce The Armor Plays. Fillinger was very impressed that our students decided to take them on. “They are tough plays to execute, about tough subjects to talk about,” Fillinger said. “They touch on sexual violence, abortion, systemic oppression — these are scary, real issues to which many adults give a wide berth. The fact that the students and teachers at Fieldston wanted to tackle these plays felt courageous and exciting to me.”
Each year, the scripts for both the fall drama and spring musical are chosen by the Theatre and Dance Advisory Board, a cohort of students who are elected by their peers. The students chose The Armor Plays from a wide selection of plays. They were eager for the challenge and excited about the idea of putting on a show that, in many ways, speaks to issues and events occurring in the world today. Cinched, the first play, takes place over the course of one evening – a dinner party in Victorian England. Following intermission (and an impressive scene change), Strapped takes the audience into a futuristic dystopia.
While the setting and plot of each play are different, the same ideas and themes run throughout both. “The main throughline of the story is asking us to consider our perceptions of gender and who holds power, as related to their gender,” said Mottola. She went on to explain that the plays also explore issues of class structure, abuse of political power, race relations, and environmental destruction.
The actors were given the opportunity to connect the plays to their own lives and experiences. “The actors are comprised of folks who identify as male, female, and gender-nonconforming,” said Mottola. “The students are able to contextualize and personalize the material. They explore where the story and the themes live within their own lives. They consider how we can be curators of our world experiences and bring them to the stage.”
Andy H. ’19 was able to draw a connection between his characters and the stories he’s seen on the news recently. “They both put their reputations before the lives of others,” he said of his characters, Lord Burrows/Ved. “They care about becoming the most powerful themselves, rather than the wellbeing of others — especially women. It feels more and more relevant each day.”
Laurel H. ’19, who played Lady Ada/Tot, said she enjoyed the opportunity to think deeply about the issues addressed by the show. “This show is about progress. Have we, as a society, made the progress that we think we’ve achieved? The play is such a beautiful way to express and start a conversation on a lot of these ideas.”
The Armor Plays presented an unusual challenge for the scenic design team. Led by faculty member Emmie Finckel ’10 and Matthew C. ’19, the team was charged with creating two sets that would each feel unique, yet also related. For Matthew, this meant doing a lot of research before anything could be built. “I spent a lot of time on a Victorian house remodeling website researching fabric patterns to design the curtains for the first set,” he said.
His attention to detail paid off. “It’s the most amazing set I’ve seen here,” said Will H. ’19. “The detail and the connection between the two sets — it’s really great.” The Strapped set posed a challenge for both the designers and the shift crew, as it needed to be constructed during intermission. Immediately following the first curtain, students swarmed the stage manned with power drills and hammers. They dismantled shelves, took out the windows and curtains, hung plastic sheets and piping. They transformed the set from a posh British dinner party to a dark, derelict underground bunker.
“The first time we ran intermission it took us 38 minutes,” said Sophie D. ’22. But the students practiced and delegated specific tasks to everyone to ensure expertise and efficiency. When it came time for the final performances, the shift crew was able to swap the set in 12 minutes. From their booth above the audience, the sound crew — Zach C. ’21, Thomas G. ’21, and faculty member William J. Norman — filled the theater with gunfire, thunder, shattering glass, and more thrilling noises that were critical to the show. Sam H. ’19, the stage manager, was responsible for making sure that all these details went off without a hitch. Before the final dress rehearsal, Sam sat in the front row of the theater, running through every sound cue. He called directions into his headset, and suddenly music swelled through the theater. “Who designed that cue, because it’s delicious,” he said into his microphone. He marked up the script resting in his lap as he worked, leaving himself notes, double-checking every detail, and making sure each cue would be the right volume and on time during the performance.
After the final curtain call, the cast and crew of The Armor Plays felt relieved and proud. There was also a shared sense of gratitude amongst them for the opportunity to reflect on the issues at hand in today’s world.
“Our students have a sense of the material being bigger than we are,” Mottola said. “After last week — between the midterm elections and another major shooting in this country — the world is very much happening around these kids.” But the students did not hide themselves from the world, she explained. Instead, they used the difficult events happening in real life to inform and inspire their work in the show.
“That felt very profound this week,” said Mottola. Will H. was grateful to be part of show that provided a creative outlet for him and his fellow students. “We were able to infuse the work with our thoughts and feelings on what’s going on today. That’s special.”