Julie Solomon ’17 debuts as director with “Baltimore Waltz”

by Joyce Lee | 11/11/15 6:13pm

A brother and sister traverse around Europe on a what is supposed to be a fun-filled romp and instead find themselves having to deal with the heartbreaking effects of illness and mortality. “Baltimore Waltz,” which was written by Paula Vogel in 1989, the year after she lost her brother to AIDS, centers on Anna and Carl, a pair of siblings who embark on a hedonistic, yet heart-wrenching, European odyssey. The show, which combines the surreal and the serious, will open at the Hopkins Center this weekend and will mark the directorial debut for Julie Solomon ’17.

Solomon, who has worked as a set designer for numerous student-directed productions in the past, said that she chose “Baltimore Waltz” as her premier directing project because of its small cast and episodic plot.

Zahra Ruffin ’17, Robert Leverett ’16 and Sid Mehra ’18 played the production’s characters.

“I really responded to the characters and the plot,” she said. “It’s a sad show, but it’s also hilarious. Paula Vogel takes such a huge issue but turns it into a light-hearted comedy, which is something I just really responded to.”

It was more difficult to put together a production team than a cast, Solomon said. Around 20 people auditioned for the show and five were called back for a second round of auditions, while Solomon is one of the only set designers on campus who had taken the mandatory class for set design on student productions. Nicolle Allen ’16 joined the show as costume designer, while Jackie Pageau ’18 worked as sound designer. Solomon said that both Allen and Pageau had worked on past student productions with her. Due to difficulties in finding a lighting designer, Solomon said theater professor Dan Kotlowitz worked on lighting for the production.

Solomon said she faced additional challenges in finding someone to design the show’s projections. She said that she wanted to use projections to show what was happening in Anna’s mind, but there were few students who were capable of working with projections. Lizzy Rogers ’16 was able to use her expertise in animation to work as projection designer, she said.

“Getting together a design team was hard,” Solomon said. “We definitely have more actors at the school, but it all worked out.”

The production’s stage manager Kyla Mermejo-Varga ’17 said that she joined the production because she knew Solomon, and the two had worked in the set shop together before.

Kelleen Moriarty ’19, the only first-year on the production team, joined the show as an assistant for set design, but ended up becoming more involved, Solomon said.

“With [Moriarty], we had to bend the rules a bit, since she’s a freshmen and hadn’t taken the class yet,” she said. “She was technically my assistant, but she did more as we went on.”

Moriarty said that she first met Solomon at the theater department open house during freshman Orientation. Although Solomon was the only student who had taken the mandatory class for set design, Solomon told Moriarty that she could serve as a set designer based on her previous design experience in high school.

The set designers faced some issues on set, mostly related to communication.

“It’s a teaching and a production opportunity, so there is a huge emphasis on communication,” Moriarty said. “We’re going through our own processes, so what needs to be done and when has to be said.”

Mermejo-Varga said that one of the major challenges the production faced was handling its logistics.

“There were a lot of technical elements, so getting on top of all of those was something we had to work really hard at,” she said.

Moriarty said that she enjoyed the chance to see the inner workings of a theater production at the College as a first-year student.

“It’s been an incredible opportunity to be involved with the department,” she said. “I’ve gotten some really great mentors out of it and a chance to meet some of my peers. It was a great jump into the deep end. It’s been a great creative process to be a part of.”

Despite difficulties in procuring a crew, Solomon said she was satisfied with the resulting production.

“It was a hard show for a first show. I was grappling with the little things. It’s not a show that’s very straightforward,” Solomon said. “We really had to pin down what is happening and when, but I think it came out really well. I challenged myself in it, and I’m proud.”

“Baltimore Waltz” will be performed on Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. in the Bentley Theater. Tickets will be four dollars for students and community members.