Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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WAVE’s ‘Birthday Candles’ play creates rich emotional journey

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Shun Graves/The Daily Northwestern
“Birthday Candles” takes place over protagonist Ernestine’s birthdays from ages 17 to 107.

The smell of vanilla wafts over the audience as Ernestine, played by Communication junior Rachel Rubin, makes a real golden butter cake throughout “Birthday Candles,” WAVE Productions’ spring play.

The show follows Ernestine’s 17th to 107th birthdays and explores traditions that bring people together through time. “Birthday Candles” will have four total showtimes Friday and Saturday at Seabury Hall.

“Birthday Candles” holds Northwestern’s nonprofit student theater company WAVE’s sustainability slot this spring, meaning the show has a smaller budget and prioritizes environmental awareness.

The set includes refurbished kitchen pieces from a show earlier this year, along with props brought in by the cast, crew and production team.

The play’s director and Communication sophomore Haley Bart said her vision for sustainability extends beyond avoiding new purchases.

“​​We have a bit of a smaller budget and are encouraged to do a lot of reusing… being mindful of how we can make theatre in a way that is good for the environment,” Bart said. “That can also translate to being sustainable for everyone’s emotional and mental health throughout the process.”

The show also operates with a small cast. Four of the six actors play multiple characters. When one character leaves Ernestine, the same actor playing another role soon joins her again.

Communication junior Yunuen Mora, who plays Ernestine’s daughter-in-law, granddaughter and the next owner of her house, said her role presented a unique opportunity.

“Along with playing different characters in each scene, they all age, and sometimes that could be just a year, or sometimes that could be 10 years, 20 years,” she said. “The hardest part is trying to make sure that all of those characters are distinct.”

Just two days before planning to load into its old venue — Shanley Pavilion — the crew learned the building was unavailable due to maintenance.

Despite facing obstacles with echoes and flooring in Seabury Hall, the play’s stage manager and Communication junior Becker Spear said he prioritized making sure the cast didn’t have negative feelings about the location change.

“No matter where rehearsal was, whether it was in even a Locy Hall classroom, the show stands for itself,” he said. “The church offers it a new perspective. I think it’s really beautiful with the stained glass. It’s kind of fierce.”

The cast and crew coordinated spring “bakeovers,” which bolstered the show’s social media presence. They documented their experiences on their Instagram, @birthdaycandles_nu.

Mora said spending time together in a different context helped the cast — many of whom play family members — get into character.

“We baked cupcake versions of the (centerpiece golden butter cake) together,” she said. “That was a super fun bonding experience, getting to do this ritual and getting close together as people by doing something super sweet and really earnest.”

While Ernestine doesn’t achieve her dreams, she experiences the beautiful, scary and sad parts of life alongside her family, discovering the extraordinary in the mundane.

For Bart, one of her favorite parts of directing “Birthday Candles” was collaborating with actors and designers on the “philosophical” show.

“I just hope that audiences leave feeling a certain gratitude for the ordinary moments of our lives and the moments that we get to share with people that we really love,” she said.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @jillian_moore7

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