Saturday, May 21, 2022

Second Stage at MSU puts on an all-new original production: Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here

April 15, 2022
Rachel Vos and Bobby Conlan in "Abandon All Hope, Ye who enter." Photo courtesy/Cole Dzubak.
Rachel Vos and Bobby Conlan in "Abandon All Hope, Ye who enter." Photo courtesy/Cole Dzubak. —
Photo by Courtesy Photo | The State News

With final shows of the academic year approaching, Second Stage is releasing an original play written by theatre students looking for their first big break. Abandon "All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here" will be running at Studio 60 on April 15 at 7:30 p.m. and April 16 at 1:00 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.

The visionary behind the new piece and theatre senior Cole Dzubak began conceptualizing the story all the way back in October 2019, writing in between rehearsals when acting was his main priority. He had a vision for a new vignette show with 32 characters played by 12 actors.

“I have always loved the idea of vignette shows because it's a lot of mini plays all in the same story, so that was my challenge … and I have always been obsessed with specifically episodes of Criminal Minds or CSI … based off the nine layers of Hell … I think it’s an interesting concept,” Dzubak said.

While he was writing the very first scene about the first layer of Hell, which he described as the limbo stage, he tried to write his main character as a truly bad person, but kept running into bumps in his character arc. The main theme of the show was born from this writer's block.

“My thought was, who and what gets to define what a good or bad person looks like? That was really kind of the basis for every other scene from there. The commentary is on how people do bad things but does that mean they are a bad person?” Dzubak said.

Wanting the theme to be open to interpretation, he is hoping that this question will make the audience decide.

This is Dzubak's first full length production he is putting on the main stage.

“There are only so many first productions or world premieres that you are going to get … it’s rewarding to be able to share this experience with my friends and go home after rehearsals and talk about what we did,” Dzubak said.

The idea of the process for him was nerve-wracking, explaining that the first time you hear words you have written out loud is like seeing your self on camera. However, as the show started, he loosened up.

“As soon as it started, all the anxiety about it went away and I realized that this is exciting,” Dzubak said.

As a director, Dzubak has found he uses all of his avenues as an actor and set designer to truly craft the feeling of the show and find his way in the storytelling process.

“I think there’s a lot of stories I want to tell and I want to be able to share my experiences and share my thoughts on the world,” Dzubak said.

He crafted many parts of the show with characters based off of him and his own experiences in life. Seeing his friends who understand his experiences and tell his story with such respect and passion has been one of the best parts for Dzubak.

A full circle moment for this senior has been going from pursuing acting to taking the playwriting class that led him to this story.

“It’s nice that my college theater career is ending with this show. It sucks and it’s upsetting that it’s over, but I think having it be something that I have worked so long on and got to be the head of helm and take charge on was really rewarding," Dzubak said. "It makes everything I’ve learned worth it.”

He hopes to put it back out into the world after this weekend and redo the process all over again in theaters around the country whether its with one production a year or 50. He shared that success for him is the opportunity to share his work in any capacity.

Theatre junior and actor 1 in the play Sebastian Barnett has been able to watch this process play out.

“Having been around just a little bit with the production team and being a good friend of Cole, the director, even prior to the rehearsal process, I have been hearing a lot about this for months," Barnett said. "So finally being able to see the culmination of all of that effort and all of the work that everyone on the production team and cast has put in is going to be very rewarding.”

While acting in this show has been a great moment for Barnett, being able to play one of his favorite characters that he has embodied, Monty, the most rewarding part has been watching Dzubak create the show from his own vision.

“Getting to watch him during this entire process has been one of the most rewarding things that I have ever gotten to witness," Barnett said. "Knowing that he has written this, and taken the time to then direct it afterward, and being able to work with him directly and make choices that are not only going to make his vision come to life, but maybe be included in later iterations of this production that are still going to edited.”

Theatre sophomore and actor 2 Bobby Conlan has loved being able to perform in something student-led, being able to talk to the director like any cast member and interacting with less pressure. The process has been most rewarding to him when creating this show.

“I remember our first read through," Conlan said. "You see some people’s characters start to develop or you see what the vision of the show is. People read the lines rather than you just reading through the script. Now that we’re at this part of the process, you’re in costumes, you have the lights, you have the set. You can see the final product. It’s beautiful.”

Theatre sophomore and actor 7 Joie Culligan is performing as a first time actor in a play. Her favorite is being able to experience the show more up close and personal since it is led by her and her peers alone, making for a refreshing experience. She also owes a lot of the show's substance to the message she believes it surrounds.

“Normalizing mental health awareness and prioritizing mental health awareness is something that is so important, and my character directly involves that, so I think that that’s probably my favorite and one of the more important messages of the show,” Culligan said.

She is excited to see the how the cast reacts to the ending: both heartwarming and heartbreaking, encompassing the whole cast.

Conlan is excited for people to see what Second Stage and this brand new production can bring to the theater world.

“There’s so many amazing actors and actresses," Conlan said. "It's a fun take. I know a lot of the plays we have done this semester have been deeper than this one. It's almost like a breath of fresh air there’s funny parts in this and there’s darker parts of this.”

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