Q&A: School of Theatre opens thought-provoking play

Ashley Koenig/Photographer Stop Kiss, directed by Leah Casella, tells the story of a young teacher played by Bethany Hart (left). Who recently relocated to the Bronx and meets traffic reporter, Callie, played by Nina Ganet (right), following their first kiss is a violent attack that transforms their lives.

Ashley Koenig/Photographer
“Stop Kiss,” directed by Leah Cassella, tells the story of a young teacher played by Bethany Hart (left) who recently relocated to the Bronx and meets traffic reporter, Callie, played by Nina Ganet (right). Following their first kiss is a violent attack that transforms their lives.

On Thursday, the School of Theatre and Dance will open its first production of the season, Diana Son’s “Stop Kiss,” directed by MFA candidate Leah Cassella.

The show will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday through Saturday and Feb. 25 through March 1, with a matinee performance at 2 p.m. on March 1.

Tickets to “Stop Kiss” cost $10 for students and seniors and $12 for adults, and can be purchased online through Ticketmaster or through the Center for the Performing Arts Box Office.

The plot focuses on Sara and Callie, two women who unexpectedly find themselves falling for one another after the former moves to New York City for a new job. When the two women share their first kiss on a street in New York, they are violently attacked by a passing man and Sara is injured enough to fall into a coma. The play happens out of chronological order, showing scenes before and after the kiss and subsequent attack.

Cassella, director, and Bethany Hart, actress who plays the role of Sara, shared their experiences with the production.

KS: What about “Stop Kiss” struck you? Why did you decide you wanted to tell this story?

Leah Cassella: It is about a choice: to look, or to look away. “Stop Kiss” is the journey of a woman who chooses to look away from her own life and most authentic self.

It is only through falling in love — something which is not a choice for Sara — that she finally decides to face life. This play tells us that the way in which we shape our choices is what matters most — that shaping our love is a way to move toward a more genuine, fulfilling and honest life. Choosing love can mean choosing hope. From there, who knows how we’ll shape the world; but love will help us do it.

KS: What do you hope the lasting effect of telling a story like this will be on Illinois State’s campus?

LC: Although I do not think it is the most prevalent idea in the play, “Stop Kiss” still deals with LGBT issues. It is tied in with identity and self-acceptance, but it is still important to note that catastrophic event happens in this play because Callie and Sara are perceived as gay.

There is no arguing that what happens is a hate crime, and one that still happens daily across the entire world. Something that in fact, just happened in my hometown to two gay men, in a neighborhood I frequented.

I think this play normalizes a non-heteronormative relationship and allows the audience to see it grow in exactly the same way many hetereonormative relationships grow. Especially in a conservative area this is important, not only for people who need to have their minds opened but also struggling LGBT people.

It is so important to see your story, to see yourself reflected onstage. LGBT stories are rarely told, so when they are, especially in a positive way that can give so much hope to queer people who are struggling with acceptance, identity and a whole other host of issues that come along with being queer in this world. As a gay woman myself, I find this play, despite the violence, to be extremely comforting.

Bethany Hart: I love the intimacy of the theatre space in Westhoff; we are sometimes a foot away from audience members, and things can get more personal than they do in some of the larger spaces on campus.

Immediately impacting [the audience] and participating with them is totally energizing and something that is unique from any other experience. Rather than hoping the audience is taking something away from this production, I’m much more interested in the questions that this piece asks.

I hope that we start discussions and have people wondering about the lives of strangers (or even wondering about their own lives).

KS: What has been eye-opening to you as an artist while working on this production? What has been the show’s lasting effect on you? 

BH: Something that has surprised me about this production is working with Nina Ganet, who plays the Callie to my Sara. We have an awesome relationship and opening my heart up to her isn’t difficult.

LC: Because I am so personally connected to this show, the process has been such a gift to me. It has been amazing to tell this story with people who are as passionate about it as I am.

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