“If you could spend eternity with just one precious memory, what would it be?”—the question at the heart of this year’s Fall Drama performance, After Life.
On November 2-4, 2023, Seawolves brought this production by Jack Thorne, writer of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, to the School by the Sea. Adapted from the 1998 film by Hirokazu Kore-eda, After Life is a story of life, loss, and letting go.
“After Life is a beautiful and complex play. All of the characters are in an in-between place—not life, and not quite death—and they are all trying to make sense of what their lives mean,” says Jesse Hawley, Performing Arts Coordinator at Tabor Academy.
While in this place between life and death, there are guides to help the characters choose a single memory to spend the rest of eternity in. Hawley explains that to make this decision, “They are replaying complicated relationships, looking closely at themselves, wrestling with unfinished business, and searching for happy memories. They are trying to identify, to quote the play, ‘What was most precious and meaningful.’”
According to Hawley, After Life strikes a delicate balancing act between heavy existential themes and humor and light. “It makes you think, but it also makes you laugh,” she says.
Since the start of school in September, the cast and crew of the Fall Drama has worked hard to bring this play from script to stage, transforming the space in the Will Parker Black Box Theater through set, sound, and lighting design.
“The cast and crew were a particularly skilled and dedicated group, which I think allowed us to take on this difficult project…When the time came to perform, it felt like a really unified effort to share everyone’s hard work with the audience,” continues Hawley, “Personally, I was so impressed with the detail and the emotional connection the actors were able to achieve, and with the nuance and sheer complexity of the technical side.”
Hawley’s high appraisal of the Fall Drama production was shared by fellow faculty members who were in attendance. Will Becker emphasizes, “This was one of the best performances I have seen here in my career. They did an incredible job handing this challenging show and putting on an amazing performance.”
RoseMarie Wallace, Director of Diversity, Equity, and Belonging at Tabor, made connections between After Life and her day-to-day life at the School by the Sea.
“We witness this delicate dance of souls transitioning through time, not unlike our student performers moving through our hallways. Each scene is the softest stroke that speaks to one’s existence. Through my DEB lens, this play revealed the profound beauty of the human connections we find in conversations and spaces at Tabor,” continues Wallace, “Our students leaned into those echoed memories, giving them life and an enduring spirit that transcends any classroom form. They displayed talents that made you forget where you were, reminding us that our stories, however fleeting, leave indelible marks upon the world. I am so happy to be in this life with the Tabor drama faculty, staff, and performers.”
Continue reading for a Q+A with several members of the Fall Drama cast and crew.
Question (Q): Describe what the process of putting this show together was like.
Natalie Konowicz ’24 (NK): Putting together After Life involved a lot of herding cats as far as rehearsals went, but from the beginning it was about finding the heart of the characters and their experiences—what brought them to where they are in the show. It was amazing to work with the cast as they each brought their own flavor to the characters. We’d philosophize about what the show meant and what the world of After Life was like beyond the pages. I loved seeing all the parts, from props to sound to lighting, come together to create a living work of art.
Elizabeth Simmons ’24 (ES): This show is fairly character driven, so we spent a lot of time as actors on character work. The tech aspect of it was also pretty large, especially for a black box show, so we had to bring in some aspects of tech into rehearsal fairly early.
Q: How did it feel to put the show on for an audience?
ES: In some ways it’s bittersweet; we only have three nights to show this play we’ve been working on for two months to the community. But that’s also part of what makes theater so rewarding.
NK: I loved the process of figuring out the show, but I never feel more elated or terrified than when we finally perform for an audience—they’re the final piece. I felt elated because it means so much to me to share what I and a lot of other people have worked at, and I felt terrified because I earnestly wanted people to understand it—to laugh and cry if they were moved to, to lose themselves in another world and to consider their own. The point of a show is to impact others—that’s what being a creator means to me.
Q: Can you describe your design process for the show poster with me? What effect do you hope the elements of the final design have on the audience?
Eden Alberich ’24 (EA): I hope that they were confused. I hope that they looked at the poster, wondered ‘Why are all these random objects and shoes on the floor,’ and decided it was compelling enough to come see the show. Then, I hope that they looked back on the poster afterwards and said to themselves, ‘I understand this now.’
My inspiration for the poster was the first and close-to-final scenes of the show. I wanted to represent, in the vaguest way possible, all the work that was put into it. I wanted to lean into the chaos and confusion. When you first walked into the theater, the floor was littered with shoes and various objects, and the audience doesn’t understand why those objects are there until they see the process in which everybody passes on. I thought it was a very beautiful thing to represent.
Q: As assistant director and stage manager, what was the significance of your role? What were some of your responsibilities?
NK: I don’t really know where one role ended and the other began; they often blended into one another. As stage manager, I’d say I was mostly a bridge. Every rehearsal I would write a report—what we did that day, what the plan was for next rehearsal, notes for sound, costume, props to keep tech crew updated and so the cast knew deadlines for line memorization. As assistant director, I’d share my thoughts if we were struggling to find the right emotion of a line, remind actors of their blocking, or fill in for them if they weren’t there. I think one of the coolest parts of theater is that the credit for an idea doesn’t belong to any one person; it’s shared and expanded upon, and the show wouldn’t be what it is if that wasn’t the case.
Q: What was your role in this production? How are you similar from the character you played? How are you different?
ES: I played the role of 5, the boss of the guides. He’s very comfortable in his own skin and often provides some comic relief in an otherwise pretty serious show. It was difficult to emulate his total self-confidence at times, as that doesn’t always come naturally to me, but it got easier as the show progressed, and I got more familiar with the character.
EA: I played Four, who is like a very angry cat that’s always pushing things off shelves. At the same time, she means well and is just trying to leave a mark and fit in while making Two, her mentor, proud. She grew a lot as a character throughout the show. I relate to the whole complex of wanting to make people proud, even when I’m still figuring out what’s going on. I also think that Four and I both get annoyed very easily and tend to lean towards dark humor. Plus, we’re both seventeen; so that’s nice, I guess!
As for differences, I don’t yell at people as much as she does. My friends mentioned to me after the show that they never want to make me mad. I also don’t think I’m as bold as she is. Maybe I should try to emulate that a bit more.
Q: What did you learn from this experience?
EA: I learned a lot about myself, I think. I learned that, apparently, I can just look at a script once or twice and then memorize it from memory. I learned that I need to bite my tongue a lot to stop myself from laughing when I really shouldn’t. I also learned in rehearsal that I’m kind of horrible at improv when something goes a little bit wrong. Fun times, I’d say.
ES: I learned about the sheer amount of work that goes into any production—from the actors to the lighting, sound, costume and prop teams. The actors are the people that everyone sees and recognizes, but so many more people go into creating a successful show than just us.
Q: What was your favorite part of this experience?
ES: Definitely the time I spent with the cast and crew. They’re really a great group of people.
EA: My favorite part had to be getting to watch the evolution of every little detail in the show. The cherry blossom mechanics, the entirety of the memories at the end, Ashley Li’s angry shouting about airplanes—it was so fun to be a part of something so beautiful.
NK: The best part of working on After Life has been seeing more of how it works behind the curtain at a director’s level. From reading the play over the summer, being part of the casting process, working with actors on their characters, experimenting with scenes, keeping the show on track for show week—it’s all been enlightening. It’s definitely an experience I’ll be keeping with me as I plan to continue working in theater.
Q: What was the hardest part of this experience?
NK: I think the hardest part of it for me is knowing that this is it. After Life is my last Fall Drama at Tabor, the last time I’ll be working with this particularly wonderful group, and each performance is nothing like it will be again. I’ve loved working on this show, and I’m sad that I won’t have that anymore. But knowing it was going to end is why I showed up for every bit of it I could, and I can’t say that I regret that.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?
EA: I want to thank Mr. Heavey for making this show the best it could be! I wish him the best retirement; he’ll definitely be missed so much in the drama department.
NK: I’d just like to thank those who suggested I try out theater and those who encouraged me to continue. It’s not somewhere I imagined I’d end up, but I’m so happy that I did. I wouldn’t like to imagine my life without it.
(Photos courtesy of Andy Mai ’24)