2020 Winter One Acts Feature: “Bait and Tackle”

An Interview with Henry McCullough, Riley Wexler, and Emily Wright

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Nick Biglin, Staff Writer and Assistant Communications Director

Harriton Theater Company’s (HTC) Winter One Acts are a yearly tradition that feature a variety of student-directed short plays in the Blackbox. A few of the acts each year are not only student-directed but also student-written. One such play is Bait and Tackle, which was performed along with the other five short-plays this January eighth to eleventh. Bait and Tackle’s authors and visionaries are seniors Riley Wexler, Emily Wright, and Henry McCullough. Each of these students is comedic and rather eccentric in their own right, traits that were reflected in their one-act play.  

The Banner: What is your show about?

Riley Wexler: Our show is called “Bait and Tackle.”

Emily Wright: “Bait and Tackle” is a story about a girl from a suburban area who is living in the rural town of Shrub Junction–

RW: –It’s in Florida

EW: She gets a job at a bait and tackle store. She quickly learns of the ominous Deep Swamp neighboring the bait and tackle store and she discovers some “big swampy secrets” on her journey.

THB: Did you write the play?

All: We did. 

THB: What was your writing process like?

Henry McCullough: It essentially took our whole summer. 

RW: Basically what we would do is we would say, “Alright, let’s focus on this part of the play. You’ll write this section, you’ll write this section, you’ll write this section,” and then we’d meet up and rewrite everything because what we wrote alone wasn’t good.

All Laugh

HM: I approached it with the idea of having an interesting setting, which we decided would be swamp, because I liked the idea of using the minimal lights and setting to the fullest extent along with the actors to create an environment of our fullest design. And we knew we wanted to do a comedy.

EW: It’s been a while since Harriton Theater Company (HTC) has had a true student-written comedy, so we wanted to do that and we liked the idea of a grocery store, which later evolved into the bait and tackle shop. We really liked the idea of eccentric characters.

RW: We liked the idea of having to deal with customers. That was something we talked about.

HM: Even though it’s a one act show, it’s very short, we have two different settings, the store in Shrub Junction and then the store in the swamp and because we can’t change a whole lot with how it actually looks because of limitations, we used the limitation to speak to the idea of two places with very different people having core similarities.

THB: So you all have worked in lighting, did you design the lighting for your show?

EW: We did. We wanted to play around with some colors that are rarely used. Because of the nature of the Black Box there’s not much we can do with shape design or anything, or even angling, but it’s mainly the colors we’re working with. We wanted to make our show noticeable in terms of lighting, but we didn’t want to build our show around it or anything.

THB: Do you think that your lighting experience helped you with this show somehow, or was the point that you were stepping out of your comfort zone and trying something new?

RW: There’s a lot of spatial awareness in lighting, you need to know how things will interact in a 3D space, and I think that helps with blocking.

EW: Lighting didn’t influence our directing, but being able to design the lighting for the show has been fun because it wasn’t that much work.

THB: What was it like when you were in full swing directing?

RW: It was really fun. Starting out I didn’t really know what I was doing, and [maybe] I still did not know what I was doing, but our cast was […] incredibly talented.

HM: Seeing it come together, it was really amazing to see how they expanded upon and interpreted the characters.

RW: A big fear I had was that our cast members would have trouble or not want to be weird, since their characters were really weird, but we haven’t had any issues with that; everyone’s been really good. 

THB: As you directed the play, were scenes different than what you originally envisioned?

EW: In terms of physicality, scenes went generally as planned. In terms of wordplay, we have some cast members who love to ad-lib. So that was good in some aspects, because they came up with things that made us laugh, which really elevated our play in terms of their relationship with their character and the comedy, but sometimes we also had to consider if that was really our vision. 

HM: We certainly had a vision, but when putting stuff together there were always little details that we realize would not work, so a lot of directing was just smoothing everything out so everything’s clear. 

RW: Every day we thought of different good ideas, but we had to see which ideas fit in the show and which didn’t, since we only had 20 minutes, and if we put all of them in it would be three hours long.

THB: Henry, you have acting experience, as do you Riley (to a lesser extent), but Emily, you do not. How does that affect how the three of you direct? Do you direct differently?

RW: I think usually Henry, when giving notes, is really good at notes that would pertain to strengthening character, which I wouldn’t even think of. Things that I say are more about where the actors are and how they say their line. Henry can give notes on how the character is being embodied or represented. 

THB: Do you have a favorite part of the play, in terms of an actor, character, or scene?

All: No.

EW: We wrote them to be different and unique and we wanted to keep the comedy running the whole time, so if we did have a favorite it means we failed the other scenes. 

HM: What was really fun about our show was that there were a lot of very different, funny parts, but [everything] became more ridiculous as the show [went] on. But if we had the most ridiculous moments, it wouldn’t be as funny or effective, so we worked to find the comedy in both the slightly slower and more mundane parts and the more lively and energetic parts of the show. 

THB: Is there one main feature that sets your play apart?

EW: I think ours is the most purposely ridiculous student play. Our play is very much a reflection of our collective sense of year over the past four years. All of it is so deeply rooted in our high school experience, and yet not at all pertinent to anyone’s high school experience. No other play can reflect the same tonality.

All Laugh

THB: You were saying earlier that some parts of the play were reflective of your high school experience. In what way do you think your experiences are relevant to the play?

EW: I put a TSA joke in there that only TSA people will get.

HM: It centers around a high-school aged kid working a job in an uncomfortable workplace: that’s something we all have experience with. Maybe a retail job, or–

RW: –being in a situation you don’t want to be in. 

THB: Do you find you relate to any of the characters; do you think you wrote yourself into any of the characters?

EW: Everyone seems to think we did.

HM: I kind of think we did.

RW: I think unbeknownst to us, we did. I wrote Clarence, and I think we’re similar.

EW: We have a main girl character, working with two incompetent men, but two hilarious men.

All Laugh

EW: Everyone thinks that I’m the main character and Riley and Henry are the two men working with her, but I don’t really see it because I want to be Whistlin’ Joe. 

HM: When we were talking about finding a bunch of different types of comedy, a bunch of that came from taking stuff from our own three different lives to write these different characters that bring different types of comedy to the show.

NB: Do you think this is a show anyone can see? If people brought their children would that be fine?

EW: It’s not inappropriate, but some of the jokes would fly over the kids’ heads.

HM: Because of the ridiculous characters and dramatic [physical] movements [in our play], you don’t always have to understand what’s going on to find the comedy.

THB: Any other One Acts you would recommend?

All: No!

All Laugh

THB: Any final thoughts?

HM: I love my mom.

EW: Yes recognition to Henry’s mother for letting us be in her house so much.

HM: And throwing at us the best and worst small ideas because she was around while we were writing?