Allyson Snyder is a sophomore Communication Studies student, former figure skater and perhaps the most likely person to be mistaken for a Theatre major. She's also the director of the upcoming WAVE production Defining Beauty, a devised piece written by the cast and edited by the director. The 12-person cast and crew has only been working on the show for six weeks. The performance, which shows five young women grappling with body image, will run Nov. 17-18. NBN spoke with Snyder about her directorial debut, the creation of the show and learning to love yourself. This interview has been edited and condensed.
North by Northwestern: As a first-time director, how has this experience been compared to the other shows you've worked on?
Allyson Snyder: It's been really great directing. I have had so much fun. I was always scared of directing because you have to go through these scary petitions that I didn't want to go through, [but] I really got to pitch my idea, like, “This is what I want to do, not who I am as a person, this is what I'm going for.” And being able to devise a piece was especially exciting because I had nothing, and I had to get people and we suddenly had this amazing show. It's really nice just being creative and not worrying so much about other things, like I can focus on the art and the message I'm trying to send. I would totally love to direct again.
NBN: You said it was a devised piece. What does that mean, and how does that relate to the format of the show?
AS: So a devised piece is when the rehearsal room comes together to create the script. So I had people come to auditions with a story about themselves, and we cast a group of five young women, and we had the first two weeks getting to know [them], some questions, then I said: "OK. Start writing your piece. What is the story about body image that you want to tell? What is something that has really shaped who you are? What has defined you? And write it out." Then what I did with my assistant director and stage manager Anna Cohen is I had all their pieces typed, and I cut them up in places that I thought made sense, and then we laid them out on the floor and put them in an order, and that is our script. So the actors wrote the words and we really just put them together, and it has been so exciting being able to tell true and personal stories. True as in, it's not necessarily the truth, not everything happened, but it's true in essence, and I just find that so exciting.
NBN: You kind of touched on it, but the main theme of the show is body image. How did you deal with the deeply personal subject matter of the material?
AS: I would say it was definitely difficult at times to go through this topic. We laid down a lot of groundwork before we started talking, you know, assume best intentions, we're here to support you, everything that happens here stays in this space. And I think that really helped people open up, but at the same time it's really hard to go into the darkest parts of your life and just pull out what's happening there. Even I felt very affected just by what other people were saying at times, and I would leave feeling just very insecure, vulnerable, when my job really was to build these women up. Treating the material sensitively, especially when we were making edits, asking "Hey, is it OK that we took this out?" or "Hey, is it OK that we changed this word?" because the way you phrase these topics is so important, especially when you're talking about yourself. So I think that while I've read the pieces so many times, I can't wait to see them fresh again in a performance because they really are a window into someone else's life.
NBN: There is a lot going on this weekend in terms of performances and shows. Why do you think people should go see Defining Beauty? What sets it apart from the rest?
AS: One, our show's free. Two, our show is short, so if you did come to a 7:00 p.m. show, you could make another 8:00 p.m. show. All of our actors are first-year students, and it is all of their acting debuts here on Northwestern's campus, as well as for many of our designers. So you're really coming to support a group of people you haven't seen yet. Not to say that you shouldn't support the people you know and love, because those people are very important, too, but if you're looking for something new, this is it.
NBN: What do you think the main takeaway will be for audience members who go to see the show this weekend?
AS: This piece tells the story of these five women, and that's the goal, because individuals are important. These are the stories that we have, and that's what we're telling. We're not trying to be anything more than that. I think the main takeaway is learning to love yourself. It's not an easy process and not everyone's stories end in resolution, and that's fine. It is a process to start liking your body, to start liking the skin you live in because there's so much more to you than your appearance. As we see these women go through a journey, I hope in turn we can see ourselves going on a similar journey, and that is [one] of self-love. There are moments where you have sadness or hatred or negative emotions, but eventually I hope everyone can find a way to be at peace with their bodies.
Defining Beauty will run Friday, Nov. 17 at 9 p.m., and Saturday, Nov. 18 at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. in Krause Studio in Annie May Swift Hall. According to the Facebook event, admission for the 45-minute show is free, but they will accept donations for the National Eating Disorders Association.