New Play Workshop
WITHOUT HER SISTER
Inspired by the lives of Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf
A theatre piece written by
Directed by Melia Bensussen
When her sister, Virginia Woolf, dies by suicide the painter Vanessa Bell is plunged into the past as she struggles to understand who she is in the world without this central relationship in her life. A theatrical piece that draws from and is inspired by the autobiographical writings of Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf. This new play explores grief, identity, the effects of inner passivity and repressed memory, loving someone with a mental illness, the transformative power of art, and the ability we have to reimagine the past and change our present.
Content Advisory: This play references the suicide of Virginia Woolf, sexual abuse, parental emotional abuse and issues surrounding a mental illness.
MARCH 25–28, 2021
On this page you'll find detailed programmatic information
as well as notes from directors, designers, and the cast
about how our production of NEWFEST
took shape over the past few months.
A message from the
“Every act of perception, is to some degree an act of creation, and every act of memory is to some degree an act of imagination.”
Welcome to the world of memory and imagination, most specifically Masha Obolensky’s interpretation of the extraordinary mind and life of Vanessa Bell’s. This theatrical adventure is not attempting to be historical, but an exploration of how our internal life is created: how our personalities are formed by our interactions, how our memories shape the writing of our future narratives. Vanessa Bell is a unique character, as is her amazing Bloomsbury circle, and her more famous sister, Virginia Woolf. But what draws me to Masha’s work is her ability to capture in their genius and idiosyncrasies their raw emotional make up, and how this allows all of us to see ourselves refracted through the lens of their experience.
You are the first audience ever to see this work. It is always thrilling to premiere a new American play, but even more so at this time when we are creating it in a new form, one foreign to most of us as a canvas. This company of actors and artisans and designers—mostly students at Emerson—have worked tirelessly over the last six weeks to tell this story. We hope it will speak to you as it has to all of us, and remind you that memory is an act of imagination, and our imaginations are how we create our life stories.
An enormous thank you to the staff and faculty of Emerson Stage, who have “pivoted,” as the contemporary jargon has it, so gracefully and fully to allow a production of this scale to happen virtually. It has been a true act of imagination to reconfigure what has always been live performance into this virtual reality. Welcome into this world of Vanessa Bell’s imagination, and to her journey of learning her story, and learning how to go forward.
ABOUT MELIA BENSUSSEN
Emerson Stage credits (selection): Corduroy, Brazen, Life is a Dream, Winter’s Tale, and All of a Kind Family (original adaptation). Melia, a long-time Emerson faculty member, is an Obie-winning director recently appointed as the Artistic Director of Hartford Stage in Hartford, CT. She has directed extensively around the country including productions at Shakespeare and Company, the Huntington Theatre, Sleeping Weazel (where she is an associate artist), Merrimack Rep, La Jolla Playhouse, Baltimore Center Stage, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the New York Shakespeare Festival, Primary Stages, the Long Wharf, Cincinnati Playhouse, ATL/Humana Festival, and many more. Raised in Mexico City, Melia is fluent in Spanish and has translated and adapted a variety of texts including her edition of the Langston Hughes translation of Garcia Lorca’s Blood Wedding.
INTERVIEW WITH THE PLAYWRIGHT
What initially attracted you to Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf’s relationship?
I would say that they went through childhood trauma together and survived it by depending on and supporting each other. As well as challenging each other. They were deprived of the expectation to excel in the world. They gave that to each other. Their drive to create helped get them through a very difficult childhood.
ABOUT MASHA OBOLENSKY
Masha Obolensky (she/hers) is very happy to be back at Emerson College, where 15 years ago she received a graduate degree and first met Melia Bensussen! Since then she has collaborated with Melia on several projects, including an Emerson Stage workshop production of their play, Brazen, in 2018. As a playwright, awards and fellowships include: a Huntington Theatre fellowship, Massachusetts Cultural Council grant, Pen New England Discovery Award, Kennedy Center Michael Kanin Award, Joseph Jefferson Award nomination for Best New Play, Shakespeare’s Sister Fellowship semi-finalist, a WordBridge Fellowship, PlayPenn Conference finalist, Eugene O’Neill Theatre Festival semi-finalist, Bay Area Playwrights’ Festival semi-finalist, and a Source Festival D.C. finalist. Her performance pieces and plays have been produced by the Nora Theatre, TimeLine Theatre, Boston Theatre Marathon, Williamstown Theatre Festival, the Huntington Theatre, the Samuel French OOB Play Festival, LaMaMa, The Boudica Series, HERE Arts Center, Access Theatre, and Source Festival D.C. She has a Masters from Emerson College in Theatre Education and an MFA from Boston University in Playwriting. Her most recent endeavor is an audio play for the Huntington Theatre’s Dream Boston series, directed by Melia. Thank you to Emerson College for this opportunity to collaborate with such a creative, smart, and generous group of people!
A message from the
Interior of the Artist Without Her Sister explores how we remember our lives and the way in which we refashion our memories to make sense of our present. This innovative new theatrical work by Emerson alum Masha Obolensky spans a nonlinear time period from the late 1880s to 1941 as it explores the beautiful and complex relationship between sisters, painter Vanessa Bell and writer Virginia Woolf, from their childhood to the aftermath of Virginia's death.
The Interior of the Artist Without Her Sister gives the audience a view into Modernist painter Vanessa Bell’s imagination as she is plunged into the past and struggles to understand who she is without her sister, Virginia Woolf. The devoted, complex relationship between Vanessa and Virginia is the heart of this new theatrical exploration by Emerson alum Masha Obolensky, inspired by the autobiographical writings of both Vanessa and Virginia.
ABOUT DENA RONCONE, MFA '21, Applied Theatre
Dena is currently the theatre director and teacher at The Prairie School in Wind Point, Wisconsin. Her current directorial projects are Monty Python’s Spamalot, Moana Jr., and a devised theatre piece with 5th and 6th graders based on Lewis Carrol’s The Jabberwocky. Dena has been a teacher, director, and teaching artist in San Diego, Milwaukee, Boston, Buffalo, and across Norther Italy. Favorite directing credits include; Metamorphosis, The Visit, Utopia Parkway, Rhinoceros, No Exit, The Birds, Nevermore, The House of Yes, The Santaland Diaries, The Madwoman of Chaillot, The Island of Dr. Moreau, Aida, Guys and Dolls, Mamma Mia, The Drowsy Chaperone, and Into The Woods. Dena has an M.A. in Theatre Education from Emerson College and a B.A. in Theatre from the University at Buffalo. Thank you, Melia for your encouragement and support.
ALEX KOPLOS, BFA '21, Theatre Design/Technology
Emerson Stage Prop Shop Assistant 2018-21. Professional credits include Suffolk University’s Apocalypso (Props Lead and Assistant Scenic Designer). Emerson Stage credits: Corduroy (Associate Props Lead), 10 out of 12 (Props Lead), Working (Props Lead), Lucky Stiff (Props Lead), Who Donut (Props Lead), and Incorruptible (Assistant Props Lead). Other Emerson credits include Emerson Shakespeare Society’s Ophelia Perennial (Props Lead) and Woyzeck (Props Lead). Thanks for a wonderful experience and a fantastic show!
TRIXIE WARD, BFA '23, Theatre Design/Technology
Emerson Stage Credits: Marisol (Wardrobe Supervisor), This Golden Day (Assistant Costume Designer), The Last Days of Judas Iscariot (Assistant Wardrobe Supervisor). Emerson College Credits: The 40th Annual EVVY Awards (Wardrobe Stylist) and The 39th Annual EVVY Awards (Assistant Wardrobe Stylist).
GRACE TUCHMAN, BFA '22, Theatre Design/Technology
Emerson Stage credits: Working: the Musical (Asst. Lighting Design), Measure for Measure (Asst. Lead Electrician), Stupid F###ing Bird (Asst. Lead Electrician), 10 out of 12 (Asst. Lead Electrician). Emerson College credits: EVVY 38 (Asst. Lighting Designer), EVVY 40 (Co-Lighting Designer), and Mercutio Troupe's I'm Going to Kill you Jimmy Fallon (Lighting Designer). Thank you to everyone who helped put on this amazing New Play!
Emerson Stage credits: 10 out of 12 and Men on Boats. National credits: Oregon Shakespeare Festival's Shakespeare in Love (US national premiere), Twelfth Night, and Romeo and Juliet; Shakespeare & Company's Cymbeline. Recent Boston area credits: Apollinaire's Chelsea People, Curious Incident..., Prudencia Hart, and many others; New Rep's Man of La Mancha (Norton Award, musical direction); Speakeasy's Shakespeare in Love (Norton Award, musical direction); many others at BC, BU, Northeastern, Brandeis, Greater Boston Stage Co., Gloucester Stage, Huntington, Israeli Stage. David teaches songwriting, musical theatre writing, and “Sound and Space” (sound for devised theatre) at The Boston Conservatory at Berklee. He was a founding member of the nationally-acclaimed Cornerstone Theatre Company, serving as composer-in-residence during their initial five years on the road. He is presently at work on Say Goodbye and Glory, two musicals for which he is writing book, music, and lyrics. Listen at soundcloud.com/davidreiffel.
JULIA WONKKA, BFA '23, Theatre Design/Technology
Emerson Stage credits: Marisol (Assistant Scenic Designer), The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui (Assistant Scenic Designer), and The Last Days of Judas Iscariot (Assistant Props Lead). Emerson College credits: EVVY40 (Props Lead), Emerson Independent Video’s Man In The Box (Props Lead), and Mercutio Troupe’s The Painted Handgun (Scenic Designer).
MAIA TIVONY, BFA '22, Stage and Production Management
Emerson Stage credits: What Remains Hidden (is Still Known) (Production Assistant), 10 out of 12 (Second Assistant Stage Manager), This Golden Day (First Assistant Stage Manager), Stupid F###ing Bird (Assistant Production Supervisor), Men on Boats (Company Manager), and The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui (Company Manager). Emerson College credits: Rareworks Theatre Company's Phoenix (A Box Play) (Assistant Stage Manager), National Broadcasting Society's Musicians Wanted (Stage Manager), EVVY38 (Assistant Stage Manager), and EVVY40 (Stage Manager). All thanks and love to: mama and aba, suite 402, the amazing Interior team, Deb and the SM class of 2022.
LUCAS BABCOCK (Thoby/Paul). BFA '23 Musical Theatre. Emerson Stage credits: Corduroy (Corduroy). Emerson College credits: Kidding Around’s Frog and Toad (Toad). Other credits: American Conservatory Theatre YC's Into the Woods (Baker) and Urinetown: The Musical (Bobby Strong). Thanks to family, friends, and professors for all the support!
JONAH BUKSBAUM (Father/Lytton). BFA '21 Theatre & Performance. Emerson College theatre credits: Mercutio Troupe's The Painted Handgun (Doctor Nameless/Father Either), Trial of Errors (Co-Producer) and Coffee Table Play (Co-Stage Manager); Emerson Shakespeare Society's Henry V (Director, Princess Katherine). This actor was made possible by contributions from mom, dad, How and Norah (for always supporting me), my friends (they're pretty cool I guess), and viewers like you. But especially you. Yes, you. If you would like to see more of my work please follow @jobuks on Instagram.
ZACH FULLER (George/Julian/Roger). BFA '23, Theatre and Performance. Emerson Stage debut! Emerson College credits: Musical Theatre Society’s Fun Home and EFA Miscast Cabaret; Emerson Shakespeare Society’s Vera; or the Nighlists and [Enter Messenger]; Mercutio Troupe’s A Hanukkah Story; and Musical Theatre Against the Grain’s Inaugural Cabaret. Zach is a board member for Emerson Shakespeare Society and Kidding Around, as well as a member of Achoired Taste A Capella. Love and praise to this company and mom & dad.
QUINN McKENZIE (Duncan). BFA '21, Acting. Emerson Stage credit: Men on Boats (Goodman). Emerson College Credits: Kidding Around’s A Mermaid’s Tale (The Prince) and Full Fathom’s Things That Shouldn’t Be Written (various). Regional credits: Lost Nation Theater’s Eurydice (Big Stone). They hope you enjoy the show!
JOSHUA O’BRIEN (Clive). BFA '23, Theatre. Emerson Stage debut! Other Emerson College credits include, Musical Theater Society's Fun Home (Lighting Designer), Kidding Around's Curious Incident of a Dog in the Nighttime (Lighting Designer) and Emerson Stage's upcoming musical, Spring Awakening (Dramaturg). Other credits include Las Vegas Academy's Our Town (Doc Gibbs) and 12 Angry Men (Juror 8). Josh thanks his family and friends for his drive to keep working. Joshob27.wixsite.com/theatre
BRIGIT O’MALLEY (Leonard). BFA '21 Theatre and Performance. Emerson Stage credit: Corduroy (Clown). Emerson College credits: Drown (Carrie); Emerson Independent Videos’s Man in the Box (Isla Arabella), You Silly Goose (Professor Martin), and Russian Roulette (Anastasia); Emerson Channel’s Escape the Farm Vol. 2 (Quipp). Other credits: The Royal National Theatre’s An Inspector Calls (Supernumerary) and Five Sister; and Tufts’ Half the History: Duet of Florence Price and Amy Beach (Ensemble), and Office Hours (Taylor). From the bottom of my heart, Thank you Mom & Dad for your endless support throughout my career, passions, and education and to all those who encouraged me!
MEAGHAN ROBICHAUD (Virginia). BFA '22, Acting. Emerson Stage credit: Men on Boats (Powell). Emerson College Credits: Rareworks Theatre Company’s Babel (Renee) and Emerson Shakespeare Society’s Taming of the Shrew (Katherine). Other credits: Boston Lyric Opera’s The Handmaid's Tale (Super), and The Neo-Political Cowgirls’ Hysteria (Dora). Thanks to Mom & Dad for always supporting me & my roommate Josh for being my personal literary historian, love you guys!
MIA TRUBELJA (Vanessa). BFA '22, Acting. Emerson Stage credits: The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui (Dockdaisy/Announcer). Boston credits: Chelsea TheatreWorks’ Burst! (Erin). Mia would like to thank her family and friends for all their love and support.
MERCER WHITFIELD (Mother). BFA '23, Theatre and Performance. Emerson Stage Debut! Emerson College credits: Stroopwafel (Member). Thank you to my friends and my beautiful family (all spread out as you are). Thank you for supporting me and loving me. I am so grateful for this opportunity and to be here at this moment. For a first time around in this extra strange virtual reality, this was such a sweet moment. I can't wait for the next ones to come. Thank you.
Artistic and Production Staff
Transmedia Consultant DEREK CHRISTIANSEN
Acting Advisor NICOLE LEWIS
Vocal Coach VALERIE MADDEN
Dramaturgy Advisor ALYSSA SCHMIDT
Lead Electrician Advisor TAYLOR NESS
Assistant Director PRESLEE KROUT
Assistant Scenic Designer ALEX MOLLO
2nd Assistant Scenic Designer BELLA PAGAN
Assistant Props Lead HARLEY NOVY
Assistant Lighting Designer NARISSA KELLIHER
Assistant Lighting Designer OAK WALKER
Lead Electrician BAZ KOUBA
Assistant Lead Electrician HENRY KACIK
Assistant Lead Electrician LAUREN HODGKINS
Production Sound Engineer MADDIE HANLEY
Assistant Production Sound Engineer AMANDA RYAN
VMix Technician MIA MOORE
VMix Technician ALEXANDRA TAWID DI MAGGIO
Wardrobe Supervisor EMILY GELDERMAN
Assistant Stage Manager LOLA SPECTOR
2nd Assistant Stage Manager EMMA ALVAREZ-ROTH
Production Assistant ELISE TUCKWOOD
Company Manager LEE FORREST
Production Supervisor SOPHIE KLOKINIS
Associate Production Supervisor HELEN KUHAR
Assistant Production Supervisor MOLLY BERCUTT
Lorelei Barcelos, Juliana Ferolie, Elizabeth Fuire, Jasmine Gelfer, Abby Griffith, Genevieve Howley, Elliana Karris, Wesley Mahon, Keaton McLachlan, Hannah Nilsson, Sydney Rice, Mariel Richardson, Alexander Serino, Evan Taylor, Madeline Thorpe
Emerson Stage Staff
Artistic Director—Annie G. Levy
General Manager—David Colfer
Production Manager—Timothey Sullivan
Props Director—Ryan Bates
Costume Shop Supervisor—Richelle Devereaux-Murray
Resident Sound Designer—Elizabeth Cahill
Scenic Painter—Joe Keener
Sound Technician—Steven Deptula
Assistant General Manager—Alix Bigley
Assistant Costume Shop Supervisor—Brian Choinski
Assistant Properties Manager—Lauren Corcuera
Assistant Production Manager: Curricular Support—Jamie Carty
Stage and Production Management—Debra A. Acquavella
Scenic Design—Luciana Stecconi
Scenic Painting—Joe Keener
Costume Design—Hunter Kaczorowski
Lighting Design—Scott Pinkney
Sound Design—Elizabeth Cahill
Emerson Stage Office Assistants—Carleigh Allen, Casper Apodaca, Shannon Horsey, Kaitlin Phelan, Alex Tawid, Jacob Tolentino
Production Management Assistants—Anthony Feola and Caitlin Hudecheck
Videographer—Benjamin Bernard and Jacqueline Thom
Scene Shop Assistants—Talia Colten and Samuel Kisthardt
Scene Shop Staff—Jonah Barricho, Sean Dougherty,
Marco Giacona, and Emerson Hart
Paint Shop Staff—Emily Curtis, Serino Nakayama, Garrett Traer,
Fernando Rueda, Kimberly Ndegwa, Leah Heath, Isabella Kochakian,
Lauren Velentzas, and Noelle DeConzo.
Prop Shop Assistant—Alex Koplos
Prop Technicians—Delene Beauchamp, Dan Bovair, Evy Burch,
Oliver Hawke, and Ryan Rock
Costume Shop Office Assistant—Sam Golub
Stitchers—Lorence Jones-Perpich, Tayla Dixon, Catriona Morris, Caitlin Johnson, Madeline Boschen, Molly Shaughnessy, Beatrice Ward, Dominic Letteri
Scene Shop Assistants—Matthew Baynes and Noelle DeConzo
Scenic Painters—Emily Curtis, Leah Heath, Garrett Traer, Serino Nakayama, Isabella Kochakian, and Kimberly Ndegwa