“The Other Side”: A Senior’s Take on Magical Realism
Issue   |   Wed, 02/04/2015 - 00:46

“The Other Side” is the next production in a series of senior projects undertaken by the theater and dance majors at Amherst College. Written by senior philosophy and theater and dance double major Pepper Dee, “The Other Side” will invigorate the Holden Theater stage Feb. 5, 6 and 7 at 8 p.m.

The musical gets underway with nameless young man, played by Dee, who has spent a full day in his room for reasons unknown. The story unravels with the emergence of a mountain, a strange voice and two bizarre characters from the man’s bedtime stories known as the “Texas Rangers.” Bewildered by the arrival of these make-believe characters from his youth, the young man eventually learns that the Texas Rangers’ appearance is linked to the amount of time he has spent in his bedroom, and now the only way to leave is to climb the mountain. The rest of the musical unfolds as the young man is faced with the task of conquering the mountain. He devotes himself to addressing the ultimate reality in terms of the metaphysical space between the mountain and the room, while simultaneously examining the question of why the young man has been in his room to begin with. The episodes of the musical take place within the scope of the mountain as well as the bedroom. The interplay of the two settings aims to tell a single narrative and encourages the audience to tackle questions regarding who does and does not physically exist.

An avid climber, Dee has used his first hand knowledge of climbing and the time he has spent on Mt. Rainier in Washington as a tool to enhance the authenticity of the mountain scenes in the play by incorporating the physical climb into the audience’s perspective. He said he decided to use a mountain in the play because climbing a mountain is a common metaphor for pursuing a goal.

“On the one hand they are kind of cliché, but I think there is a great reason for that,” Dee said in an interview. “So much about the pursuit makes it a really perfect metaphor.”

Dee said that his enthusiasm for magical realism also provided inspiration for the musical. He was interested in the possibility of fantastical characters meshing with reality and thinking about what it might look like for an individual’s imagination to conjure beings into his real life.

In describing his motivation for choosing to write a musical as his senior thesis project, Dee also praised the faculty and staff members who allowed his ambitious vision to come to life. “The Other Side” is directed by Amherst faculty member Ron Bashford, while Resident Lighting Designer Kathy Couch is responsible for the artistic direction of the lighting and atmosphere. The mastermind behind the set design is theater and dance graduate assistant Reilly Horan ’13, who is responsible for conveying the mountain with an incredible 12-foot tiered scaffolding upon which all the climbing is done, as well as plexiglass planes that project images that bring the mountain scenes to life. The musical also features a live band. In addition to creating the script, Dee also took on a large role in composing the music “The Other Side.” Dee said that he worked out the sound arrangements largely as a collaborative and experimental effort with the talented musicians.

This Thursday, Friday and Saturday will mark the culmination of Dee’s journey with theater and dance at Amherst. He got involved with the department during his first year, when he was asked to play guitar in a senior friend’s thesis project. He then decided to take his first theater class at Amherst. Dee considered majoring in music, but ultimately decided to pursue the theater and dance major because it could accommodate his wide-ranging interests.

Preliminary meetings for the theater and dance senior thesis begin in the student’s junior year, but Dee said that the end product barely resembles the initial ideas he had last year. Dee said he was inspired last summer, when he spent a summer on Mt. Rainier with no cell phone service and limited Wi-Fi. He said this early part of the process was the most difficult, but once he had the first pieces of music, the rest of the writing process came more easily. The musical was cast between Thanksgiving and winter break. Since early January all pieces of the musical have been coming together, and Dee said this has been the most enjoyable part of the process.

Pepper said that his unique position as playwright, lyricist and actor provided him with the experience of turning to the feedback from others involved in the process in order to explore with the possible meanings and interpretations of his original creation.

“You don’t really have a sense of what you’ve written until other people look at it,” he said.

Following “The Other Side” comes Theater and Dance senior theses “Grow Up, Already!” written by Valerie Rodriguez, “Destiny” written and directed by Daejione Jones, and “Invisible Man” written by Bryce Monroe.