Behind the Scenes of the One Acts

Director Ella Sanfilippo (junior) and her stage manager Luke Miller (junior) design and program light cues for play “Who Killed Delia Emsworth.” (Joe Jackson/Sewickley Academy)

Alexandra Cordle

Traditionally, Sewickley Academy always holds a play, a musical, and a One Act Play Festival in the fall, winter, and spring, respectively. This year’s fall play, although altered, did actually take place, however, instead of doing a musical in the winter, the Drama Department at SA took a different approach, deciding to shift the One Act Play Festival to the winter. In order to pull this off, a small group of crew, actors, directors, assistant directors, and teachers came together to block, stage, film, and edit the shows in just five weeks.


This year, there were three student-written works, the first being titled Retribution! Written by senior Serena Melonio, this one act plays with the idea of what happens when someone dies, the morality of humans’ present-day actions, and how these actions can impact one in the afterlife. Another senior, Felicia Niebel, took the task of bringing this play to the stage in her directing debut. 


When asked about why she transitioned from acting to directing, Felicia said “she wanted a challenge. I thought it would be fun to be on the creative side of a show to help continue to grow my creativity,” she adds. 


Felicia’s team also includes sophomores Avani Venkat as an assistant director and Aiden Rasmusen as a stage manager.


The second work, Leave a Light On, written by sophomore Grace Armutat, is set after the death of protagonist Eleanor’s grandmother, when her previously absent father shows up on her porch to try to repair their broken relationship.


This piece was directed by SA Theatre Arts Director Mr. Joe Jackson alongside sophomore John Shillingsburg as the stage manager. In addition to writing, Armutat was also an assistant director and an actor – proving that she was a jack of all trades in her roles for Leave a Light On

Props! (Ella Sanfilippo/Sewickley Academy)

 Who Killed Delia Emsworth, the third and longest piece, was written by sophomore Claire Cable and directed by junior Ella Sanfilippo. Sanfilippo was joined by her stage manager and fellow junior Luke Miller.


Emsworth, as it has been nicknamed by its cast, is a twenty-minute murder mystery set in early 1900s in England. As well as being the longest of the three shows, it also has the biggest cast, which stimulated more opportunities for creativity.


Sanfilippo, who’s also president of the Tech Theatre Club, has “been involved with tech theatre since [she] was in middle school.” But despite all of her prior knowledge of tech theater and her stage managing roles in SA’s 2019 winter Musical production of Fiddler on The Roof and 2020 Fall Play War of the Worlds: The Panic Broadcast, this is her first time directing. 


“Directing felt like a natural next-step from stage management,” said Sanfilippo, “I’ve tackled directing the same way I tackle stage management, which is the same way I tackle pretty much everything else: make a plan, detail each individual step, and analyze, revise, execute, check in on the plan daily to ensure everything is running smoothly.” 

Virtual design sketch of the stage. (Ella Sanfilippo/Sewickley Academy)

Additionally, it’s been tough for the entire crew to combine the technical aspects of theatre with more creative and emotional aspects that some of them are less familiar with. Not only this, but the pandemic has also thrown in some challenges into bringing these plays to life.


“Actors have to be masked, which means they need to utilize body movements to make up for the loss of facial expressions, and we need to stay physically apart as much as possible, which changes blocking and warm-ups,” Sanfillipo said, “The largest change, in my opinion, is that this year we will not be performing the one-acts to a live audience, but rather filming them and sending them out to the community. This means that we are kind of producing more of a movie than a play, which brings about its own slew of complications surrounding camera angles, video editing, and even scenic design.”


She also specifically credited the support of the production team: “Mr. Jackson has helped me create effective blocking, and Mr. Bell has been an endlessly reliable source of support, guidance, and tireless listening to my rants about whatever is on my mind.”


If you are interested in the final product of five weeks of absolute chaos, the One Acts will be sent to the entire school on or around February 12, 2020. It is truly a privilege to be able to produce a show whilst still being safe and mindful of the CDC’s guidelines, and there is a lot of credit due to the cast and crew for bringing you a show!