Wirtz Student Theatre Project “The Aliens” set to debut this weekend


Ari Bernick/The Daily Northwestern

Two performers in the upcoming production of “The Aliens.” The production is set to debut this weekend in Wirtz 101.

Henry Roach, Reporter

An independent Wirtz Student Theatre and Performance Project production of “The Aliens” will make an out-of-this-world debut this weekend.

The play, written by Annie Baker in 2010, has nothing to do with visitors from outer space. It instead revolves around two 30-year-old men, Jasper and KJ, who “schlub” around on the back patio of a Vermont coffee shop. One day, they meet 17-year-old coffee shop employee Evan, and an unlikely friendship forms.

“It’s one of those plays that’s kind of about nothing and about everything at the same time,” Director and Communication senior Connor Geary said. “It’s got deep concepts like the meaning of life and death, and it’s also just about three friends. And that’s why I really enjoy it.”

Over the summer, Geary began toying with the idea of directing a Wirtz Center project his senior year. When he read the script for “The Aliens,” he knew the small cast and limited set would work well within the project constraints: a black box stage, $500 and a few props.

Geary needed at least one other student to sign on with him, so he asked SESP junior Cormac Callanan to be his producer. Within a week of submitting the application, the two heard they had received the grant — and that the show needed to be ready for an audience in two months.

“It went from zero to 100 very, very quickly,” Geary said.

The production team consists of seven people: Geary, Callanan, three actors, a stage manager and a dramaturg, the latter of which provided background research for the show.

Communication junior Nick Kinney, a cast member. said the small production allows the team to find intimacy with the characters and each other.

“It feels like we all have such a big voice in the production,” Kinney said. “It always felt like a contained and artistic endeavor.”

Because it’s such a small production, team members adopt multiple roles, Callanan added. Callanan is also helping with lighting, an actor is managing sound and the production team sourced many props from the actors’ closets.

At a picnic table, a man in a red shirt sits on one side, with a man in a black shirt laying on the ground on the other side with his legs up. On the right, a boy stands in a blue shirt and khaki shorts.
Three actors perform a scene in “The Aliens.” (Ari Bernick/The Daily Northwestern)

The team rented props from the Wirtz Center free of charge — a perk of independent projects that most Student Theatre Coalition shows don’t have — and recycled set pieces from the recent StuCo production “Centerville, New Jersey Has a Problem with Trout.”

“Bringing those (two sides of theatre) together is what these independent projects are really about,” Callanan said. 

The simple set, consisting mainly of a brown picnic table, two red folding chairs, two dented metal trash cans and patio detritus, allows the stillness of the production to root itself in the space. 

Geary said the small production is the type of theatre he loves the most. 

“At Northwestern, it’s really hard to remember that theater doesn’t have to be hard,” Geary said. “(This show) was a good reminder that you can do theatre anywhere.” 

Communication senior Justin Kuhn, who plays Jasper, said it has been a challenging and fun process to explore a character so unlike himself. Jasper is a 31-year-old high school dropout with a substance use disorder. 

The “sense of play” Geary brought into rehearsals allowed Kuhn to find the “gold nuggets” at the heart of his performance, Kuhn said. He added he hopes the audience comes to the show with an open mind. 

“There’s no plot, but it moves and things happen and it affects you in a really sneaky, creepy way,” Kuhn said. 

At the end of the day, Geary hopes the stillness and silence prevalent in the show prompts people to think about how they connect with others.

“I hope that people will strike conversations with people that they would never think to strike conversations with after seeing the show,” Geary said. “Because that is what causes this whole plot to unfold — talking to people that you would never, ever talk to. And something very beautiful comes of it.”

“The Aliens” premieres in Wirtz 101 Friday at 7 p.m., followed by a 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. show on Saturday. Admission is free.

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Twitter: @ItsHenryRoach

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