"The Aliens" comes to the Radford stage

aliens rehearsals B 500-72
Director Annie Bolte watches a rehearsal.

Sometimes the stars really do align. At least that’s the way Radford University junior Annie Bolte feels right now.

The Theatre major is getting a chance to direct her favorite play, “The Aliens,” by Annie Baker, which will open on Valentine’s night in the Bondurant Auditorium in Preston Hall on Radford’s main campus.

Normally, that’s just not the way it happens. First of all, students must pass through two levels of directing classes before they may apply to direct their own show.

And while students may recommend plays, the Theatre faculty select each season’s offerings well in advance of a given student’s opportunity to helm a production.

Bolte first came across “The Aliens” while in her Directing II class and requested to do it for her class requirements, but it is too long for that. Then, last summer, she got a call from Professor Wesley Young saying she would be directing the student production this year, and as luck would have it, her favorite play was on the schedule.

“The Aliens” is very much about identity and the decisions people make when they are young. Its sparce, three-character design allows a thoughtful exploration of that. 

The play focuses on Evan (played by Donnie Rinker), a 17-year-old coffee shop employee, who wants to break out of his boxed in life but is unsure how. His life starts to change when he meets Jasper (Payton Williams) and KJ (Connor Pero), two thirty-something regulars, behind the shop.

aliens rehearsals E 500-72
Left to right: Connor Pero, Donnie Rinker and Payton Williams play KJ, Evan and Jasper, three characters discussing poetry, philosophy and life behind a coffee shop that seems to hold them all in place.

The pair have complex history as friends and bandmates with many dead ends. They decide to take Evan under their wing and even though both are floundering, Jasper and KJ share music and poetry and encourage Evan to find himself.

“I think that makes the play very relatable,” Bolte said, noting that high-schoolers often look to young adults as models.

“In part, it is an appreciation for your mentors, whoever they are, and how they help you.”

It is also a play with unique dialog that can come to realistically awkward impasses. Much of what “The Aliens” says is found in the spaces in between the lines and the choices the actors make.

“On the first page of the play,” Bolte explained, “the playwright specifies that you need to have a comfortable relationship with silence.”

 “That’s my biggest problem as a person. I always need to fill the silence and that immediately drew me to the show as a way to work on something I'm scared of, you know?”

There are a lot of other things to work on with the show as well. As the student director, Bolte had to cast the show and works closely with the crew to design, light and stage the show.

Keith-Costume Design 2-500-72
Costume designer Zoe Keith explains how she uses clothing elements to communicate character in this production of "The Aliens."

And all the work is being done by students in concert with the director’s vision.

“Honestly, I don't think people realize how much happens during shop. How much goes on to put a set together,” Bolte said.

“There isn't enough appreciation for the people taking stagecraft and learning how to put a flat together. And the stage managers and designers are really important.”

One of those designers is senior Zoe Keith, who has worked with Bolte to create the costumes.

Keith said that from the first concept meeting, she wanted to capture the themes of alienation, isolation and disconnection and visually sell the characters as real people who are out of place in their own time.

“We have two characters in their early 30s stuck in their rocker days from the ‘90s causing them to feel left behind. And then we have an awkward 17-year-old who can't connect to the present in his own way.”

“I looked at aesthetics from older bands like Nirvana, Alice In Chains, The Red Hot Chili Peppers. My goal is to say a lot about these characters visually so just by looking at them, the audience fills in the blanks about what we don't see.”

“The Aliens” plays in Bondurant Auditorium in Preston Hall from February 14 to February 17 at 7:30 p.m. and again on February 18 at 2 p.m. All tickets are free and may be gotten at the door or at the box office in 240 Walker Hall.

Feb 9, 2024
Sean Kotz