By Kenna Caprio
Fairleigh Dickinson University theater students hit the road last night, taking “Henry’s Law,” the original play by Stacie Lents, on tour. First stop? A performance at the Mile Square Theatre Fall Performance Fest in Hoboken.
“This is the first touring production that FDU has ever done. It puts us on the map,” says Lents, assistant professor of theater. “It’s exciting to work on a new play. The students are learning what it is to be part of an ever-changing project and are originating stage design and roles.”
Born out of a collaboration between the Psychology and Counseling and Visual and Performing Arts departments in the Maxwell Becton College of Arts and Sciences, “Henry’s Law” explores modern bullying, boiling it down to a central question: Why do good people do awful things?
“I’ve always felt strongly that Becton College needed to take an interdisciplinary approach to education,” says Becton Dean Geoffrey Weinman. “When you see something dramatized, it can have more immediate impact than any intellectual discussion. Hopefully the audience will feel more comfortable discussing bullying once it’s out in front of them.”
Associate psychology professor Donalee Brown contributed six months of bullying background research to the Henry’s Law project before Lents worked on the visual and performing arts piece.
The project has taken off in two directions — on the artistic side, the show has been picked up by two professional theater companies, including Mile Square Theatre, and, on the educational side, area high schools have indicated interest in having the play performed and then discussed as an anti-bullying tool.
“Our goal is to create awareness and change behaviors on a social as well as psychological level,” says Brown. Along with other psychologists in the department, Brown will provide anti-bullying training to faculty and staff in the Boonton school district this January.
In choosing to address relationships and the unintended effects of social media, Lents focuses on how strained connections can yield hurt feelings. “You can do a lot of damage with only 140 characters,” says actor Jacob Cormier, 20, in an interview. Cormier plays Max, a science-loving high school student, in “Henry’s Law.”
“It may seem like you’re the only one who’s going through bullying, but just know that you’re not alone,” continues Cormier, a senior playwriting and acting major from Lowell, Massachusetts. That message is echoed by most of the cast and crew who have found themselves profoundly moved while taking on this project.
“My hope is that we touch the hearts of each audience member,” says Alicia Rivas, a junior acting major from Jersey City, N.J. The 20-year-old Rivas, who plays Sara, wants theatergoers to take notice of their personal actions and realize that what they do can affect everyone around them.
FDU shows start tonight, Oct. 9, at 6 p.m. and continue on Thursday, Oct. 11. Performances take place in The Barn Theater and cost is $6 for students and seniors, $12 for the general public. Upcoming performances include stops at McNair High School on October 15 and, next spring, The Growing Stage’s Stages Festival in Netcong.
Students in the University's theater program receive a liberal arts base and graduate with a Bachelor's of Arts. Lents notes that classes are “rigorous, intense and small,” and headed by faculty who work in the theater business. Degrees are available in acting, musical theater, theater studies, directing, playwriting and design tech.