By Christine Hayes
It’s not uncommon for Emerson College students to ultimately showcase their works in the world of theatre, but freshman Renee Richard is ahead of schedule.
The theater studies major has been putting together a full production of her play, “Estrogen and Testosterone,” to be performed at the 45th Street Theatre in New York City in on Jan. 12. (Check out photos of the rehearsal)
Richard, a theatre arts major, attended Walnut Hill School for the Arts in Natick, Mass., and has drawn on former classmates there to put the play on in conjunction with a nonprofit organization called Artists Striving to End Poverty (ASTEP).
“I had put a lot of hard work into it and [Director Daniel Hutchins] had helped me out and had become very invested in it. So, it seemed like the next logical step was to try to make it happen,” she said. “We couldn't think of a better way to do it than to benefit ASTEP, since it's such an important organization to both of us. So we talked to them about our idea and sent them the play and they immediately supported us.”
Richard, 18, of Holliston, Mass., discovered her passion for writing almost by mistake in seventh grade. She attended a bilingual elementary school where she ended up learning more Spanish than English. Once she transferred to an all-English speaking school, it became clear that she was behind in reading and writing. She was tutored in English, but continued to struggle in school.
It was then that Richard turned to creative writing for practice and found her niche. Richard focused on writing at Walnut Hill, where “Estrogen and Testosterone” was conceived.
“We still are in awe!” said Richard’s mother, Gina Richard. “We’re so proud and amazed at the hard work and tenacity that Renee and her fellow artists have put into this project.
The fact that it is being performed off-Broadway in New York makes it purely magical.”
“Estrogen and Testosterone” is a two-act, tragic love story about a boy and a girl who long to escape. It is a minimalist play, with only two characters and a relatively sparse set. Richard said she initially based the play on her own relationship and breakup in high school.
“The drama is heightened to raise the stakes on stage,” she said.
Richard is producing the play with four former classmates from Walnut Hill and one friend from Emerson. Daniel Hutchins, 18, of Sudbury, Mass., is directing the play while Alynn Parola, 18, of Long Island, N.Y., is stage manager. Both are current students at Boston Conservatory and alumni of Walnut Hill.
Jake Evans, a freshman at Boston Conservatory, plays Testosterone and Serena Kassow, an Emerson freshman, is Estrogen. Both are 18.
The play was conceived in October 2011 as a 10-minute script for high school and was performed at an ASTEP fundraiser at Walnut Hill in February.
Richard didn’t begin writing the full 80-minute two-act play until this past summer after talking to ASTEP about performing the play in New York, where the company is based.
“It’s so important to us that we are cultivating a community of artists and we are thrilled that we can call [Richard and her colleagues] partners,” said Davinia Troughton, director of development and operations for ASTEP.
ASTEP brings performers and underprivileged children together to encourage creativity and critical thinking to help break the poverty cycle.
ASTEP was a prominent part of Richard’s high school experience. She learned about the group through Kirsten McKinney, musical theater teacher at Walnut Hill, who is a friend of ASTEP’s founder, Mary-Mitchell Campbell. Richard was the head of a club affiliated with ASTEP while at Walnut Hill and led the school in becoming the first official high school chapter.
Though Richard is elated about seeing her work performed in New York City, she said her main goal is raising money for ASTEP.
“They’ve been very important in my life over the past few years,” she said.
Richard is hoping to establish a chapter at Emerson and eventually build a Boston arts chapter with the Boston Conservatory. Her involvement with ASTEP has led her to focus her studies at Emerson on theatre for social change.
Richard enjoys writing surrealistic and minimalistic plays, inspired by her favorite playwright, Samuel Beckett. Beckett was an Irish writer whose “Waiting For Godot” character Estrogan led Richard to name her characters Estrogen and Testosterone.
“Beckett is my spirit animal,” she said. Richard’s dream job, she said, would be to work in the West End theatre district of London.
These days, though, she has little time for dreaming. She said the unanimous feeling during rehearsals as the performance date nears is pride.
“It’s like, we’re only 18 years old and we’re doing this!”