A Look Inside the Lockers

Posted on Wednesday, May 4, 2016 at 10:01 PM

By Jessica Ervin (Ester in DRY LAND)

In undergrad during my Shakespeare class, we discussed in depth the idea of connecting very specific images with the names of people and places. The end goal of this exercise is that when the proper noun is spoken out loud, the audience will hear and recognize the difference of weight in names, and it will conjure in them a visceral reaction as specific as your own. The difference in “Tybalt” versus “Romeo” and “Mantua” versus “Verona” should be palpable if executed correctly.

Although the language of Dry Land is a stark contrast from Shakespeare’s flowery prose and poetry, as a cast we have collectively mastered this connection of image and noun, particularly when speaking about characters that are never seen onstage. And in the case of twice mentioned Shelly, the entire cast and crew had a fictional field day.

Shelly Loftis (affectionately given a last name by actor Matt Farabee) is mentioned very briefly in the fourth scene in which Ester confronts Amy about a pretty vicious rumor going around school, was perpetuated by none other than Shelly. After this, Amy quickly dismisses Shelly to deflect the subject. It is from this short exchange early on in the rehearsal process that the cast and crew collectively decided that we really hate the lie spreading, unsportsmanlike, redheaded, freckle-faced Shelly.

Despite all of the negative attention Shelly receives, she is highly represented on the show’s set. Shelly has her own locker with her initials and a sign that reminds the swim team to vote “Shell 4 Pres.” We all shudder to think about the state of the already dysfunctional school under the reign of Shelly as head of the student body. I know whom Ester will not be voting for this election season.

The inside of Shelly’s locker is her personal paradise. It is papered with tree branch outlines, fake birds, a dangling glass sculpture, a garden gnome, a book on ferrets, and an introduction to violin, all lit by a fake candle from the Dollar Tree. Director Hallie Gordon likens it more to a serial killer’s shrine. Anti-Shelly profanity also defaces the locker immediately next to hers.

The reach of Shelly doesn’t end on the show’s set. Shelly also has her own Facebook profile where she daily trolls the cast and crew, and sends her hilarious, although often misguided, support with a little help from Charlotte Thomas.

So, why the obsession with Shelly? Why allow her to grow into a fully realized character? Is it just for the sake of specificity in the scene, or is there something more under the surface of our horseplay? Simply put, Shelly is our scapegoat from the all too realistic world of the play. She allows us to laugh on the days when the weight of the subject matter—DIY abortion, bullying, and self-loathing to name a few—feel too close for comfort.

During a photo shoot before rehearsals for the play even began, actress Bryce Gangel posited that the cast and crew of Dry Land would have more fun throughout the process than other productions with less serious content, because it would be the only way to cope. I’m not sure if truer words have ever been spoken. What started as an inside joke quickly turned into a way for us to connect outside of the material and trust each other during the more demanding parts of the process. Shelly has bonded us as a cast and crew and armed us with humor and joy.  

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