Senior theatre major to present one-woman show

March 1, 2011

PLAINVIEW – Rachel Steed has done nearly everything on the Wayland Baptist University Theatre stage in her four years in school, from acting to directing to lights, sound, costumes and stage management. But when it came time to choose her senior practicum project, Steed knew exactly what she wanted to do: act.

Steed, who moved to Plainview in the fifth grade and graduated from Plainview High School, will earn her bachelor’s degree in theatre with a minor in English in May from Wayland. As part of her major requirements, she must complete a practicum project that puts her skills to the test. She chose to spotlight her acting ability and challenge herself with a one-woman show.

To that end, Steed will be performing solo on Saturday, March 5, in a production she is calling “Four American Characters: The Search for Truth.” The 45-minute show is a collection of four monologues taken from a book of autobiographical sketches compiled by Anna Deavere Smith.

Steed said she began looking into options over the past summer and came across a video of Smith performing four pieces from her work. She was moved by the content and the presentation but kept looking at some other autobiographical pieces. Eventually she came back to Smith’s work.

“Nothing really hit me the way those monologues hit me, so I went back to Smith and found these four pieces that were part of a larger play and decided to do that,” Steed said. “Smith went around the country searching for the American character, wanting to find the true essence of an American, and she discovered there are a lot of things and one of those is questioning official truth, which is what I am focusing my show on.”

Her monologues feature three major characters: a news man who has reported on many historical moments, a religious man who is on his soapbox about his version of truth, and a woman coming out of prison and an abusive relationship. The news man wraps the piece up at the end with another monologue.

Steed said the idea of the truth issue really appealed to her as someone who has been immersed in the theatre world since high school.

“It’s a big deal in the theatre world, that question of ‘what is truth?’ and how we bring that to audiences,” she said. “In my mind, that is the ultimate goal, to bring people the truth and let them decide for themselves. A lot of people think truth is relative, and in this show, the pieces really get you on the track to thinking about truth. I am hoping people will leave the production thinking. I want them to question what they believe and wonder what is true, what is right. I want people to leave scratching their heads.”

The concept of a one-woman show appealed to Steed because of the challenges, though it also can be energizing. Though she’s been involved in nearly every major production of the WBU theatre in her four years, she’s typically had supporting actress roles and enjoyed her role as part of the bigger picture. But the format offered her a chance to stretch herself and her abilities.

“It’s never been just me on stage in a standalone role, and I may not have the opportunity to do this again. It’s a pretty rare thing to do,” she said. “It’s terrifying and amazing all at the same time. If I drop a line or lose it on stage, there is no one to save me. I have to jump to something and make it work. At the same time, it’s exciting to be on stage all alone. I can understand why people want to do it and why they don’t.”

Steed said the piece involved a lot of research on her part as she wanted to really capture the personality and essence of the characters, who are actual people. She spent time in the fall researching their stories, their mannerisms, their backgrounds and accents so she could accurately portray the individuals. She said the piece can be exhausting mentally and physically since the characters are all so strong and so different.

One of Smith’s few stage directions is to perform the entire piece in bare feet, to symbolize stepping into the character’s lives and words. Though it felt strange at first, Steed admits, it actually has helped in the process.

In her four years at Wayland, Steed said she has many favorite memories of the various productions. Her first year, she did sound for Picasso at the Lapin Agile, where she was able to work with some of Wayland’s great actors and met fellow freshmen Amanda Allen and Sarah Buckland, with whom she has bonded over the years in many shows. She also enjoyed the Centennial musical Man of La Mancha, sharing the stage with her director, Dr. Marti Runnels, and served as dance captain, incorporating a part of her life she has loved but has not done much since being in Plainview. She said the experience really gave her a glimpse into the musical theatre world with the leadership of Jeff Kensmoe, who directed the piece from his role as director of opera/musical theatre and has since moved to another university.

She also mentioned the humorous play The Odd Couple, which featured an all-female cast and was great fun, and The Fall, in which she played a soldier and experienced her first stage death.

“The great thing about Wayland theatre is because we’re so tiny, we get a comprehensive theatre education. I have directed, stage-managed, run lights and sounds, done makeup and props, all of it,” she said. “That makes us very marketable.”

Steed will take the Harral Studio Theatre stage at 8 p.m. and admission to the single performance is free. Engaged to be married the day before she graduates, Steed and her fiancé plan to move to Austin, where he can work as an English teacher and she will work while pursuing her theatre activities in her spare time.