Erica Nork ’16 Investigates Gender Through Abbot Academy Plays

Sneaking out to the pond in the middle of the night, Boy, played by Jack Lawlor ’17, asks Girl, played by Claire Glover ’16, to touch his chest and feel his heart. As Girl pulls back her arm, Boy reaches out to hold her hand, leaning in for kiss.

This play, written by Kimberly Streeter ’72, was part of a five-part play production that took place on Saturday evening in the Theatre Classroom. The plays were directed and produced by Erica Nork ’16 as an addendum to her Brace Fellow research project on Abbot Academy and the arts. Each of the five plays was written by Abbot Academy women between 1969 and 1972.

“I felt that theater was something that takes this notion of gender and can define it really easily and I chose to cast roles that were not in the binary and characters [whose genders were] ambiguous so I thought that was part of my casting, but I also wanted to highlight the interpersonal relationships… I wanted to make sure that the people who were playing those characters had a thorough understanding of one another. So then they were really able to think about their gender and how that plays into how they perform,” said Nork.

Nork became interested in producing this collection of short plays while doing her research in the Abbot Academy archives over the summer as a Brace Fellow. She curated the plays from several editions of ‘The Courant’, published by Abbot Academy.

“I chose all of the plays because I could see the characters, I could see people I knew playing the characters. I heard Hannah Beaudoin’s banter in Treehouse, because I looked through all of ‘The Courants’ as part of my research and the ones I chose were just the ones that stood out to me the most,” said Nork.

Each of the plays relate to gender in some distinct way. In an untitled dialogue by Sally Smith-Peterson ’73, Hannah Berkowitz ’17 and Liz Irvin ’17 argued about love and being human. Set in a girls dorm room, Irvin was offering Berkowitz advice about the insensitivity of Berkowitz’s lover.

“I think a lot of [the play’s] talk about gender in an interesting way… they sort of imbue a very interesting mindset that I think is kind of foreign to theater now in that they were pushing a very obscure message. And then, I just thought the tone of all the plays were very different than the plays we do now, and also as these plays were all written by Abbot women, maybe some of them have never been performed before, so that was really fun,” said Nork.

Other plays featured a much darker theme. In ‘Treehouse’, written by Beth Andrews ’70, Fila and Heath, played by Hannah Beaudoin ’17 and Dakoury Godo-Solo ’17 respectively, began the play with childish banter. However, the piece slowly took a darker turn as the characters revealed that they were stuck in their tree house in a seemingly post-apocalyptic world.

“I think that [the show] had a really large impact on the sort of gender relations throughout it. It was rather subtle in Treehouse, but I imagine it had a pretty large impact overall… I think that between Dak and Hannah, it was a lot more subtle, but sort of in the way they played off of each other and their body language as well as, in the script, the insults they used against each other were very gender-specific,” said Jason O’Dwyer ’18, an audience member.

In addition to being a supplement to her Brace Fellow presentation, the show served as a final theatrical project at Andover for Nork.

“I wanted my last hurrah in Andover theater, directing, and I figured [a series of five plays] was logistically easier. Each play rehearsed once before our Wednesday dress rehearsal and a couple pieces ran through it a few times on their own. It was pretty low-key. I didn’t want it to be too long or too complicated, and it didn’t really require such a long rehearsal process, but I think that’s what made it more fun,” said Nork.