When Sweet Briar College senior Molly Harper appeared in the school’s production of “The Beauty Queens of Leenane” last year, she often struggled to leave her character behind after each performance.
Harper starred as Mag, a manipulative, demanding woman who has a toxic relationship with her grown daughter and live-in caretaker.
It’s one of the most challenging parts of acting, she says: working to find ways to relate to a character that is nothing like you but, once the play is over, “walking out and dropping it. You’ve got to go back to being you.”
Harper expects “Lies,” her senior directing project, to have the same effect on the five actors who are starring in it.
The play, which she also wrote, is a collection of eight monologues about the lies people tell, and why they tell them.
“I wanted to talk about different things,” says Harper, who grew up on Kent Island in Maryland. “I wanted to talk about personal things. I started writing about every time I thought I lied in one way or another. … Each of these [characters] is reliving an instance when they lied.
“The way I pictured it is not just likes you tell other people. It’s lies you tell yourself … Lies to make [yourself] feel better.”
When it came time to start planning her senior project, Harper couldn’t find any scripts that she wanted to direct, so she wrote one herself, using a piece she created for Sweet Briar’s Diversity Monologues as a starting point.
The Diversity Monologues were started in 2011 to “promote diversity, understanding and civility on campus” and her fellow students wrote about everything from religion to sexual orientation, she says. Harper’s monologue focused on body issues and her “struggle growing up as a tall person [and] a big person. I wrote about becoming a bully to stop kids from making fun of you, [and] bouts of bulimia, anorexia and self-mutilation.”
She says her message there and in the play was that we all have insecurities and “we all feel the same way sometimes, so why make fun of a person because they’re not you?”
“A lot of the experiences being portrayed are autobiographical,” she adds. “A lot of times, it’s difficult to hear.”
Harper, who will graduate with a BFA in theater and music and an arts management certificate, also composed the play’s music and designed the set, which is based on broken mirrors.
“[It’s] a physical manifestation of the misinterpreted image … these characters have developed about themselves and the lies they have told over time,” she says in a press release about the production.
Harper began acting in high school, after she got cut from the volleyball team and saw a flier for the school play on her way out of the gym.
“That first year, I started going to tech calls,” she says. “The technical director was the physics teacher at our school. He would go into these big, long mathematical equations about the physics of [the sets]. I was so intrigued.
“They needed people, and I could do it. There’s just something fun about making something. And learning how to use power tools.”
Harper continued to be a jack of all trades throughout high school and at Sweet Briar, where she’s been involved in every production, in one way or another, since her freshman year.
“It’s always a dual thing for me, to go backstage and build the sets and go onstage and perform,” she says. “There was always something magical about that. There still is.”
Contact Casey Gillis at (434) 385-5525 or firstname.lastname@example.org.