Student-Lead Play Debuts at UNIS

The Busker sits center stage on his mat with an instrument and a collecting cup. He plays a note.

THE BUSKER:  I think we’ve started off on the wrong note.

He plays a different note.”

These are the opening lines of “Untitled Advertisement”, a student-written and student-directed absurdist comedy. Written by Grade 12 student Elena McCullough and directed by Grade 10 student Viet Linh To, the play follows several mythical creatures that are sold, or are trying to sell, hunger.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the play is its absurdist tone. McCullough emphasized that viewers should keep that in mind as they watch the show. “It’s meant to be funny, but not in a funny way,” McCullough said. “It doesn’t always make sense, but it’s not meant to.”

On that last point, McCullough is certainly right. Apart from the abstract and intangible theme of the sale of hunger, the play includes a consultant of no particular field of expertise (with the self-proclaimed title of a consultant of consulting) offering unwanted advice, “occasionally invasively political commentary”, and – for a small fee, of course – solicited feedback.

There are abrupt, rambling monologues on the topics of diversity marketing and the impact of racial stereotypes on advertising that quickly segue into French idioms and translation ambiguities. A street musician has a “shameful past and even more shameful level of musical skill.” The hunger sold can be found in organic, non-GMO varieties, described (not incorrectly) as “hunger the way nature intended to be.” Characters are directed to never under any circumstances leave the stage after entering. The list goes on, and that’s only what’s in the script. Add a group of dedicated actors, crew, and directors, and there is potential for a truly unique performance.

McCullough explained that she intended the play to be a commentary on manipulative marketing tactics used by companies in an overly capitalistic society. “The product being sold is hunger, so really things are being taken away from the customer, but they’re still paying for it,” McCullough said.

The play features a fully student-lead cast and crew, directed by To. She is using the performance as the product for her Grade 10 personal project. “I’m really interested in marketing and how it’s different in different cultures, and I wanted to use this opportunity to learn about that,” To said.

While initially scheduled to take place during December, To was forced to push the performance date back due to delays in the schedule and planning for the play. She added that the “schedule depends on a lot of people, like the actors and the crew members.” She also noted that while others working on their personal projects were able to do so on their own, but hers involved lots of communication with others.

McCullough originally wrote the play two years ago as the product for her Grade 10 Personal Project. “At the time that I wrote it, I was really interested in marketing strategies,” McCullough explained. “When I decided to write a play for my personal project I thought, why not integrate something that I’m interested in, right?”

McCullough noted that at the time, she was initially unsure about what form the final product would take. “I actually didn’t know that I was going to write a play at first,” she said, explaining that she had determined the topic of her investigation before deciding how to communicate it. “I was going to make a set of educational materials but I decided that combining two of my interests at the time would have been more conducive to motivating me to work.”

To added that she is hopeful that this will encourage future theater students to create and perform their own production. “I think it’s really cool to have a fully student lead production,” she said.

McCullough shares similar sentiments. “It’s really amazing to me that something I wrote is actually being performed. I think it’s really cool of Viet Linh to do this, and I hope that everyone involved had fun with it,” McCullough said. “I sincerely hope that anyone who goes to watch it takes something away from it.”