Students bring quirky dramedy to Northwest Arkansas Community College stage

Students bring quirky dramedy to Northwest Arkansas Community College stage

Stephanie Freeman has a message for fans of live theater in Northwest Arkansas.

“NWACC Theatre is here! Our students are AMAZING!”

This is Freeman’s first semester as professor of theater/theater program coordinator at Northwest Arkansas Community College in Bentonville, but she has a resume that speaks for her — Bachelor of Arts in English from The University of Alabama, Bachelor of Science in Theater Performance from Middle Tennessee State University and Master of Fine Arts in Theater (Acting Emphasis) from West Virginia University. She’s also studied at Stella Adler Studio in New York, taught around Arkansas and performed with Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre and TheatreSquared.

NWACC offers an Associate of Fine Arts in Theater with courses such as Playwriting, Acting, Directing, Theater History, Musical Theater Production, and Drama Practicum, and Freeman is delighted to be able to offer theater majors “opportunity — there’s no waiting in line. We want to give you as many performance opportunities as we can!”

She’s also aware that many of her students aren’t there to study theater.

“Helping students find theater, most for the first time, and then, hopefully, fostering a lifelong passion for performing arts, is the goal of our program,” she says. “We are very lucky to have these fantastic students bringing their talents, energy, and time” to the current project, a “quirky dramedy” titled “Circle Mirror Transformation.”

Written by Annie Baker, “Circle Mirror Transformation” opened Off-Broadway in 2009 and received the Obie Award for Best New American Play. Set in an adult creative drama class at a local community center, the play, according to Baker, lets the audience learn about the characters through formal theater exercises.

“I knew I wanted there to be excruciating silences. I knew I wanted a doomed class romance that left one character embarrassed and the other heartbroken. I knew I wanted the characters to deliver monologues as each other … Eventually I realized that the fun of the play is the fact that it’s confined to this dull, windowless little space.”

Critics called the play “absorbing, unblinking and sharply funny.”

“The artificiality of the acting games just emphasizes the naturalness of the characters’ real lives and feelings,” The New York Times wrote. “Group members pose as trees, beds and baseball gloves. They perform emotional scenes using only the words goulash and ak-mak. They pretend to be one another, telling their life stories. They write deep, dark secrets (anonymously) on scraps of paper and listen, sitting in a circle on the floor, as the confessions are read aloud.”

The characters are Marty, the instructor (sharing the role are Hannah Phillips and London Thorn); Schultz, a recently divorced carpenter (Edward Mountz); Lauren, a reserved high school junior (Suzy Bounsavy); Theresa, a former actress (Blue Chronister); and Marty’s husband James (Professor Marc Turner).

“The cast really plays the games and really goes through the exercises,” says Freeman. “But, beware: Acting may be therapeutic, but it’s not a substitute for therapy!

“‘Circle Mirror Transformation,’ in its beautiful simplicity, really speaks about the yearning to connect and slowly stepping out of one’s comfort zone,” Freeman muses. “And, after the past few years, we definitely realize the importance of being fully present with people. The art of drama is learning how to be a human being, on purpose. That’s what these characters are trying to do, whether they realize it or not.”

Here’s what cast members have to say about the show:

Hannah Phillips, Bentonville: “Marty is much older than me, but we both have that kind of floaty, gentle energy. I hope to continue doing theater when I get out of school, maybe in the form of public theater. Everyone should come see this show because it will be like nothing you’ve ever seen.”

London Thorn, Rogers: “I wanted to be in this show because it feels like a love letter to acting. I love how it centers around the relationships that people can form in a relatively short period of time.”

Edward Mountz, Bentonville: “My character’s name is Shultz, and he is a divorced man in his 40s. He’s like me in the sense that he’s very passionate, and he cares a lot about the people he loves. He’s not like me in the sense that he has serious boundary issues and can be way too clingy and desperate at times.”

Suzy Bounsavy: “Studying at NWACC I’ve been leaning into prop artistry when I finish college, but acting has been so prevalent in my studies it may become a possibility.”

Blue ChronisterBentonville: “This is my last semester at NWACC, and the last two years I’ve been working through social anxiety that I have lived with for my whole life. This was like the final boss in a video game, to prove to myself I can do this.”

Marc Turner, professor: “It’s an interesting approach to telling a story. The students are doing a great job and the director has some cool interpretations. Folks should come see it.”


‘Circle Mirror Transformation’

WHEN — 7 p.m. April 27-29

WHERE — White Auditorium (Burns Hall) at Northwest Arkansas Community College in Bentonville

COST — $6-$8; tickets available at the door via cash, check or Venmo

INFO — Email

Categories: Theater