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October 5, 2021

SVSU student-led production opens theatre season

An SVSU student’s passion project will mark the first in-person theatre production of the 2021-22 academic year. 

Jaden O’Berry, a theatre major from Flint, will direct “Lonely Planet” by American playwright and theatre director Steven Dietz.  

Dietz won the PEN USA Award in Drama for “Lonely Planet,” which explores friendship and fear between Jody (played by Ethan Bach) and Carl (played by Jared Kaufman) at the height of the AIDS epidemic. The play is suited for audiences 13+ and will run from Wednesday-Saturday, Oct. 6-9 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, Oct. 10 at 3:00 p.m. in the Malcolm Field Theatre for Performing Arts. 

The production is part of the SVSU theatre department’s Studio X.P. (experience) Program, in which students propose a production of their choice, then cast and direct the play. Peggy Mead-Finizio and Tommy Wedge, both SVSU assistant professors of theatre, have served as advisors for Studio X.P. productions since the beginning of the program in fall 2018.  

“Most university theatre programs have limited options for undergrad students to direct productions,” said Mead-Finizio. “Having those resume credits as an undergrad stands out when students are seeking internships and jobs.” 

Wedge and Mead-Finizio advise the student director and student technical liaison, respectively.  

“I try to be Jaden’s ‘gut-check guru,’ a voice of experience where she can check in on how to move forward when presented with the seemingly never-ending obstacles that come a director’s way,” said Wedge. 

O’Berry, who will graduate in May 2022, won a lighting design competition at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Region III Festival in 2020, and her lighting design was used in an SVSU production of “Roustabout” in February of 2020. O’Berry was selected for the Roberts Fellowship, an SVSU Program of Distinction, for the 2021-22 academic year.  

While O’Berry is the director, she sees the production as a collaborative process with the entire crew. 

“I provided the structure of what I wanted and the designers have been able to follow it through and add their own flair,” she said. 

In her vision for the play, O’Berry wants to create “mic-drop moments” ― specific vignettes in important scenes that help carry the play’s message. 

“We know what the end goal is for the show, but we don’t want the audience to know that we know what the end goal is,” O’Berry said. “It has to be a surprise for us every night. That’s the joy of live theater; it’s never the same way twice. We want to make sure that we’re getting everything across that we should and paying respect to the story.” 

O’Berry chose the play because of the present-day parallels of the COVID-19 pandemic and for LGBTQ+ representation. 

“The HIV and AIDS epidemic was big in the 1980s, and the reason I chose this piece is because as a queer person, I’m always looking for representation on larger scales and larger stages,” she said. 

“I think the play didn’t resonate until COVID hit as hard as it did. I think that’s the best part about this play and what makes Steven Dietz such an amazing playwright. He truly encapsulated what it means to be human and to have those fears and those doubts about going out and facing the world.” 

Bach, a communication and theatre education major from Essexville, has appeared on the SVSU stage as Robert in “Proof” and in other Studio X.P. productions. He feels that having a peer as a director makes the experience more real and in the moment.  

“We know each other as classmates and friends, so it’s a different experience in regard to how we communicate with one another,” he said. 

“We have a lot of the same ideas and feelings towards theater,” 

Kaufman, a communication and theatre education major from Bay City, has competed for the Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship's regional award through the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival. 

Tickets for “Lonely Planet” are $15 each and can be purchased either online or at the box office (two hours prior to an event).  When tickets are purchased online, a link will be sent to your email to print or present as a mobile ticket.