Submitted on Tuesday, 2/3/2015, at 3:36 PM

In February, March and April, four Amherst seniors—Pepper Dee, Valerie Rodriguez, Daejione Jones and Bryce Monroe—are bringing four distinctively original productions to the stage as part of their final projects in theater and dance.

Amherst’s Department of Theater and Dance is unique among college theater departments in this way: each year, seniors majoring in the department create a full season of shows alongside accomplished faculty and staff. Majors choose which aspect of theater they’d most like to experience —acting, writing, directing, working behind the scenes or a combination—and collaborate with professors and theater technicians to create their visions and bring them to life onstage. (Last semester, for example, Morgan Ashly Brown ’15, looking for a challenging acting role, chose to play the lead in Shakespeare’s Cymbeline and worked with Amherst Professor Ron Bashford, a professional director of Shakespeare.)

This spring, all four seniors have taken on the job of playwright. Dee and Monroe will perform in the shows they’ve written, and Jones will direct her own play.

The season kicks off Feb. 5–7 with The Other Side, a new musical starring and with original songs by Dee, and directed by Bashford.

Pepper Dee '15
Pepper Dee '15

The Other Side follows a young man who explores his metaphysical side when two oddball characters, a strange voice and a mountain mysteriously appear in his room. Dee is a theater and dance and philosophy double major, and his senior project is a unique combination of two of his interests: songwriting and mountain climbing.

When writing the musical, Dee says, the songs came first and the script followed. After learning to compose theatrical music in Bashford’s spring 2013 course “Words and Music for Theatrical Performance,” Dee says he “could think of no one else” who could help him combine his script and his music “with as much mastery as Ron.”

While the script does, in part, draw from Dee’s own experience as a mountain climber, the play is about more than just that. "What's great about mountain climbing,” he says, “is that it serves as this universal metaphor for struggle and endurance.”

Dee describes the play as taking place both in a room and on a mountain, but the mountain is also, in a sense, in the room. “The world is in flux in this play,” he explains. “It’s deliberately ambiguous, and establishing what world we are in at each juncture is really helped by the set and lighting.”

He’s working with Kathy Couch ’95, resident lighting designer, and Reilly Horan ’13, scenic designer and theater and dance graduate assistant, to visually create the room and mountain onstage. The result is, in Dee’s own words, “a really beautiful set that’s a maze of scaffolding and ramps, creating a virtual mountain.”

Overall, he says, The Other Side aims to be a total sensory experience.

See The Other Side, written by and starring Pepper Dee ’15, on Feb. 5, 6 and 7 at 8 p.m. in Holden Theater, and stay tuned for more information about the three other upcoming performances:

  • Grow Up, Already!, written by Valerie Rodriguez ’15
    Feb. 19, 20 and 21 at 8 p.m. in Holden Theater
  • Destiny, written and directed by Daejione Jones ’15
    March 5, 6 and 7 at 8 p.m. in Webster Hall, Studio 3
  • Invisible Man, created and performed by Bryce Monroe ’15
    April 2, 3 and 4 at 8 p.m. in Holden Theater

All four performances are free, but reservations are recommended. Call the box office at (413) 542-2277.