Vertigo Productions’ fall show Rip Current Water Entry follows four lifeguards in Martha’s Vineyard on the last weekend of the summer. As three veteran lifeguards welcome a newcomer, tensions rise and group dynamics are challenged. The show, a mix of laugh out loud comedic moments and serious conversations, explores issues of class, gender and power.

Photo by Eugenia Cardinale / North by Northwestern

Playwright Dora Grossman-Weir, a School of Communication senior, started writing this play about a year ago as part of the Advanced Playwriting Sequence— a year-long course where students are tasked with writing a full-length play.

The show changed a lot throughout the writing process, but Grossman-Weir’s goal was to accurately capture the experience of college students.

“I wanted to write for my age group and I wanted to focus on a lot of the anxieties and things that feel very present in my age group and things that I feel anxious about,” Grossman-Weir said. “The metaphor of the lifeguard was useful to me because it’s people who are too young to be taking care of other people who are entrusted with other people’s lives; people who don’t even know how to take care of themselves who are supposed to take care of other people.”

In creating her characters, Grossman-Weir focused on the nuances of human experiences to depict real human people, because she believes the distinction between good and bad people is not so black and white.

“I just wanted to write a story about people who you didn’t want to like but you did and people who you weren’t totally sure about whether you should care about them or not, because I think that we should be talking about nuance,” Grossman-Weir said.  

Photo by Eugenia Cardinale / North by Northwestern

Director Sydney Johnson, a School of Communication junior, had a unique connection to show, as she is from Martha’s Vineyard. Her knowledge of the place and culture helped throughout the rehearsal process.

“Sydney is literally from the town in which this play is set, so not only could she bring her incredible expertise as a director, but immense knowledge of the town and the culture and the class conflict between people who are from the area and people who get to just hop in and vacation and then leave after their lovely summer’s over,” Grossman-Weir said.

Johnson’s connection to the setting of the play played a role in her directing process as well.

“I took on the role of dramaturg too and I just was giving them all these things like 'OK this is exactly where this beach is, this is what you will see in the water, this is how far the walk is from the boat to here,'” Johnson said. “Dora and I this summer we went to this beach and we sat for a while and we were just like ‘cool this is where our show is,’ which is so cool— something I’ve never been able to do before."

To create the beach setting, the production team had to bring 4,000 pounds of sand into Shanley Pavilion, which proved to be challenging.

The team for this show is small, because according to Johnson, there is a new focus in student theater on campus to “do less better.” The size of the team has brought about both positives and negatives.

“The team is so minuscule compared to so many other StuCo shows,” Johnson said. “We really downsized everything which sometimes has been really hard— during tech week it’s been really difficult not having enough hands around—  but for the most part it’s simplified everything so much and made us all a lot closer.”

Producer Rick Hilscher, a School of Communication sophomore, focused on building a strong bond among the team and the small size of the team and cast helped achieve this.

“Everyone’s gotten super close over the process,” Hilscher said. “That was something we pushed from the beginning when we’re recruiting people was that we wanted the cast and the production team and everyone to feel like one unit and one team putting on the show.”

Photo by Eugenia Cardinale / North by Northwestern

An important aspect of the show is the fact that it is a show written by a student about students produced by students.

“I think that it’s crazy that in student theater on this campus so many plays are full of different aged characters and plays full of adults being performed by young people, and I just feel very proud and excited to be telling a story of people our age made by people our age,” Grossman-Weir said.

Rip Current Water Entry will run in Shanley Pavilion on Nov. 7 at 7:30p.m., Nov. 8 at 7:30 and 10p.m. and Nov. 9 at 2:00 and 7:30p.m.