thesis & theater

[img1]It's the sign of a new director.

"I'm always nervous to stop you guys mid-scene," John Pangelinan says to his cast.

But he does. After all, it's his play and he has to get it right.

Pangelinan jumps onto the stage, because, as he says, there are some scenes you can't tell someone how to do. You have to show them. He demonstrates to lead actor Casey Wynecoop precisely how a barista should stand when he makes a drink.

The black, somewhat barren stage is set. Just a few tables, stools and some benches pushed together to make a couch set the scene. With a little imagination you can picture the scene set before you -- a coffee shop, espresso machine whistling, releasing steam and a warm aroma into the air, baked goods stacked on shelves, patrons sitting at each table, morning coffee and newspapers before them.

The stage, the actors and the script they read are the culmination of Pangelinan's unusual senior thesis project. It started with an inspirational book and ended with a 42-page script, a cast of characters and a play Pangelinan produced, directed and stars in.

While many students opt to do research for their senior thesis, Pangelinan sought a project more apt to fit his creative interests, while still fitting the requirements for his Comparative History of Ideas (CHID) thesis.

"CHID gave me the freedom to do this play for my thesis," he said. "It gave me this incredible opportunity for me to a better idea of what I want to do after I graduate."

To craft his play, called Elemental, Pangelinan looked to The Alchemist: A Fable About Following Your Dream by Paulo Coelho, one of his favorite books. The Alchemist is a story about a person transforming something ordinary into something extraordinary by following their dreams, with the help of spiritual leaders.

[b]'Pop-culture theater'[/b]

Pangelinan extracted the book's theme of making your own destiny and adapted the message into the storyline to appeal to a younger crowd. He thinks of it as "pop culture theater," where he can use things that most people can relate to like music, in order to present larger themes to the audience.

Elemental follows the life of Santino ("Sonny") as he works his way from a coffee barista job to become a renowned music producer and disc jockey.

The play begins in the cafe where Santino works, serving others day in and day out rather than actively trying to reach his goals. An old man encourages him to quit his job and move to a new city in pursuit of his dreams.

"You are responsible for creating your reality ... you can always better yourself with the choices you make," he tells Santino in the play.

And so Santino's journey starts. He leaves town and meets a kind man who takes him in and offers him a job and an education in Wing Chun Gung Fu, a form of Kung Fu.

Santino makes connections in the music industry, eventually making a name for himself as a disc jockey, ends up in a successful business partnership with an old friend and -- of course -- gets the girl.

[b]Creative license[/b]

For his CHID thesis, Pangelinan discovered he could do anything he wanted -- including a play. He always wanted to write short stories, but said he never had the incentive until the thesis project arose.

Pangelinan wrote the dialogue fall quarter, but has been tweaking it throughout the year. He then enlisted the help of the Undergraduate Producing Project, a program offered by the Ethnic Cultural Theatre (ECT).

The undergrad-producing program gives students the chance to produce a play by giving them the guidance and management to get their production off the ground, but the student is responsible for the rest of the project -- from pre-production to rehearsal and the production.

The majority of students enrolled in the program are not in the School of Drama, so the directing project might be their only chance to see their production realized.

It was an easy transition for Pangelinan, who works at the ECT. He cast a handful of actors and actresses, mainly people he worked with as a stagehand for ECT productions. The group has practiced twice a week for the past few weeks, gearing up for Saturday's show.

The final product will be a play reading, which is essentially the same as a normal play production, though the characters have scripts on stage with them and are not required to memorize all their lines.

[img2][b]Putting himself in the script[/b]

The script reads right from Pangelinan's own background and life experiences.

"Good writers put themselves into their work. It's much more effective to write about yourself and what you know best rather than making it up," he said. "To write it any other way can take the human element out of your story."

Pangelinan's main character works as a barista because it's a job he knows well. He has worked as a barista for more than four years at various coffee shops, and knows firsthand about serving others every day, and seeking to meet a customer's needs.

In making coffee, baristas learn to mix ingredients that are essentially nothing by themselves, blending them to the customers' satisfaction, said Wynecoop, who plays Santino in the production.

During his years as a barista, Pangelinan noticed there is a formula for the way to mix coffee, just as there is a formula for how a DJ would mix music, he said.

"It's the ability to take something out of nothing, starting from somewhere and developing a skill," Wynecoop said. "Blending coffee, making music or learning a martial art is taking something that at one point in time was unfamiliar to you. Then you become an expert in it."

Just as Santino perfects the art of blending coffee and music, Pangelinan spent his year working to perfect his story, his script, the characters and his vision.

"This is my first real piece of writing, and sometimes I get embarrassed," he said. "I really exposed a lot about myself, I'm usually more reserved and so it's kind of like throwing it out to the wolves."

As Santino's journey unfolds on stage this Saturday, Pangelinan will not only see his year of work realized, but his own writing, culture and life.

"This has been very helpful. It's forcing me to explore more about myself and what I might want to do after I graduate," he said. "It's been a very helpful transition."

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