Student Production Workshop’s summer production She Was as Beautiful as the Moon follows two strangers, Luna and Alexander, who spend the evening recounting the moments, good and bad, that made them who they are. At the heart of the production are playwright Hanako Montgomery, and director Kayla Arvelo. The two have continuously collaborated throughout the play’s development, dating back to the play’s first reading, directed by Arvelo.
Education Coordinator Sarah Kutnowsky sat down with the pair to discuss their partnership and bringing the play to life.
Sarah Kutnowsky: What was the inspiration for She Was as Beautiful as the Moon?
Hanako Montogomery: There were many different things, but one of the key things was the short story Wunderkind by Carson McCullers. It’s about a little girl who was a musical prodigy. Her parents and her teacher applied a lot of pressure on her and made her amazing technically. But through that, striving for technical perfection, she lost the beauty of her playing. In She Was as Beautiful as the Moon, there is a lot of violin imagery, pursuit of being amazing at one thing, and the loneliness that comes out of that.
SK: What was the process of developing the play?
HM: I developed this play through the playwriting [track] at SPW. I wasn’t sure what I was going to write until two weeks before the deadline. I was actually on vacation when I had to submit it. So I sat down on the plane, and I just started writing. I wrote the first draft of She Was as Beautiful as the Moon non-stop. I didn’t really determine the structure beforehand, and I had a vague idea of who the different characters were and their relationships, but I didn’t really know what the central theme was going to be. But from that script I worked with Elizabeth [SPW’s Playwriting Mentor] a lot, and I narrowed down the message of the play. There was a really messy editing process that I’m glad to say, but also sad to say, is over.
SK: What has the rehearsal process been like? How have you two collaborated on this play?
Kayla Arvelo: For me, it’s mostly hands on. It’s about painting the picture in my head and putting it on its feet. I was always open with Hanako and told her “if you want something, let me know and I can do it”.
SK: So you consult Hanako?
KA: Yes! She doesn’t even notice, but I look at her face while they’re rehearsing and if she makes a face I’ll say “no, do it again.”
HM: I really trust Kayla. She does ask me “is this okay? What do you think of this?” Sometimes, we’ll have to talk about it. The set was a challenge; we weren’t sure if we wanted to have a lot of pieces onstage.
SK: How did you two work with the design team to bring the play to life?
KA: When we first started, we had a meeting before we even spoke to the design team. We narrowed down what our vision was. We discussed a lot about what we wanted the audience to see. We got help from our mentors on how to share our ideas; we didn’t say exactly what we wanted, but we gave specifics that [helped the design team] get the big picture.
HM: The weekly meetings helped a lot. We met the different design teams to catch up on what they’d been doing the past week, and what else they planned to do. During that time, if we didn’t like something or were questioning something, we could ask questions.
KA: The two of us have our language. We’ll just tilt our head and everyone knows that means “no." Or we’ll squint our eyes, and that means “maybe." And if our eyes pop that means “yes!”
SK: What do you want audiences to take away from this play?
HM: One of the main things I want them to take away is the message of the play. The pursuit of being important, being great at whatever you do, and the loneliness that comes with it. The effects it has on different relationships, and the people in your life. I hope audiences can see that and think about what that means to them. How they’ve maybe abandoned their values or family members in trying to do something better for themselves, and how that makes them feel.
KA: I want [the audience] to take away the idea of not giving up on what you love, that passion. Not letting those around you affect what you love to do. I find that that’s a big part of this play, specifically for Luna and Alexander, they gave up on those priorities in their lives, and that has taken a toll on them. Especially for us teenagers, it’s important to know that we should go for what we want, and not let parents or friends change that idea for you. Even if it changes, let it change on your own terms.
She Was as Beautiful as the Moon will premiere at The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre on August 7.
A Conversation with, Education @ Roundabout, Student Production Workshop