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Toni Ahrens ’05 (Hamilton, N.Y.) is producing several theater pieces that students from the Modern Drama class will perform at a brown bag noon today in the Black Box Theater of the Williams Center for the Arts.

“Not only am I responsible for directing the pieces, I will be casting, scheduling, and handling all the organization of this performance,” says Ahrens, a double major in psychology and English with a concentration in theater.

In the first scene, taken from Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, Tyler Cohn ’06 will portray Prior and Mike McFadden ’04 will play Louis. In a second scene from the play, Ryon Clark ’04 will be Henry and Kevin Chysna ’06 will portray Roy.

The third scene will be taken from Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls, with Michelle Nelson ’04 playing Marlene and Emily Becher ’06 as Janine. The fourth scene will feature Colby Block ’06 as Nell and Jess Lenza ’05 as Shona.

“Though some aspects of these scenes are quite racy and possibly controversial, the message is all about the way society shapes our viewpoints of individuals and people as a whole and how human beings learn to take on certain roles in society that must not be disrupted,” says Ahrens. “This is an opportunity to see excerpts from two very intelligent and ground-breaking plays performed by incredibly talented student actors and it should not be missed.”

The independent study emphasizes applying directing theory to scenes from contemporary plays that Ahrens is studying in Modern Drama, taught by her adviser for the independent study, Michael O’Neill, director of theater.

“There is something about directing that completely fascinates me,” says Ahrens, a College Theater actress and vice president of the Marquis Players. “Getting to see a vision you have come to life on stage, working with so many talented people, having so much freedom to interpret a text, and the outlet for creativity are all what draw me to directing.”

O’Neill believes strongly in both the nature of this project and Ahrens’ potential to succeed. “Projects like this are one of the great strengths of our theater program,” he says. “This kind of living, breathing connection between text and live performance is central to our mission as theater educators and represents a liberal arts education at its finest and most productive.

Says Ahrens, “It is incredible to work with Dr. O’Neill on this project because he is someone I admire tremendously as a director, professor, and person. He has such a vast knowledge of the theater and such an incredible understanding of the art of directing that I knew I needed to study this craft with him before I graduated.

“He certainly is highly qualified,” she adds. “It would be impossible to count the number of productions he has directed or been involved with throughout his life, and his artistic vision has fascinated me ever since I saw his production of Translations the first semester of my freshman year.”

Ahrens also credits Lafayette’s close attention to students for this unique experience.

“Lafayette is a good environment for independent work because students are able to develop very close relationships with professors,” she says. “If Lafayette were a large university with huge lecture classes, independent studies would be rare and hard to come by. Because I have been able to get to know Dr. O’Neill, approaching him about an independent study was easy and I was confident he would be willing to help me with this project.”

“Toni is bright, articulate, and very well-organized,” O’Neill says. “She has a great love for the theater and has that quality one gets from being immersed in theater and theater environments. She seems to me an ideal candidate to direct.”

Ahrens served as assistant director and vocal director of this spring’s staging of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown by the Marquis Players. She also performed in its productions of Crazy for You and Sugar, and the College Theater performances of Little Shop of Horrors and The Club. In addition, Ahrens is president of Lafayette’s all-female a cappella group, Cadence, and a member of the Arts Society. She was the winner of the recent Lafayette Idol singing competition, where she sang “All That Jazz” from Chicago and “Fallin'” by Alicia Keys.

She is a graduate of Hamilton Central School.

Independent study courses are among several major opportunities at Lafayette that make the College a national leader in undergraduate research. Lafayette sends one of the largest contingents to the National Conference on Undergraduate Research each year. Forty-two students were accepted to present their work at the annual conference this month.


Toni Ahrens ’05 directed and produced scenes from two contemporary plays in an independent study guided by Michael O’Neill, director of theater.

Categorized in: Academic News