Ten students, two roles: WFU Theatre presents ‘Back Story’

The play is a collection of 19 scenes and monologues


Courtesy of WFU Theatre

“Back Story” is centered around the story of two siblings.

Ava Cofiell, Staff Writer

Wake Forest Theatre presented “Back Story” Feb. 24-26 — a collection of 19 scenes and monologues that shared the story of two siblings grappling with the absence of their father. 

While Ainsley and her brother Ethan are the only two characters in the play, director and Wake Forest assistant teaching professor Michael Kamtman casted 10 students to play the roles. The director’s casting decision reflects the collaborative nature of the play — it was written by 18 different playwrights.

Kamtman described the collaborative process as the most fulfilling aspect of directing the play.

“When these ideas were all realized, and I saw everything for the first time in the theater, it was a very emotional moment for me,” Kamtman said. “[The cast members] are all risk-takers who loved to explore this rich writing, who trusted themselves and trusted me.” 

While the play features a variety of written voices, “Back Story” is based on Joan Ackerman’s characters and narrative from a short story she wrote in 2001. Kamtman explains how these characters were one of the things that drew him to “Back Story.

“I’ve found ‘Back Story’ to be a potentially appealing play for college-age theatre students because Ethan and Ainsley are so close to their age. I’m also constantly on the lookout for audition material for theatre students, and since there are so many monologues in this play, I’ve always seen great potential in that regard,” Kamtman said.

Because the production was held in the intimate Ring Theatre, the cast used simple set pieces such as a white sheet, a table and chairs to bring Ainsley and Ethan’s story to life. Junior Elsa Maurizi, an attendee of the show, explained how the use of space was one of the standout qualities of “Back Story.” 

“I loved how much they used the space,” Maurizi said. “The actors were using stairs, coming on and off stage and utilizing lighting. Credit to Sean Jones (scenic and production designer), Michael Kamtman (director) and Will Landau (stage manager) for their attention to detail. In the car scene, Joe Bruno and Maddie Koontz made me cry — I loved it.”

Through the characters’ relationships with one another, the production explored ideas about what it means to grow up. As Ainsley devotes her time to putting her brother on a positive life path, she risks altering her own. Freshman Joe Bruno, who played Ethan, shared how the show’s compact form uniquely presents important topics. 

“My favorite scene is the one where Ethan is talking to his unborn child and vows to never make the same mistakes as his own father,” Bruno said. “It’s really touching. This show has a special way of presenting complex issues like fatherhood, childhood innocence and family dynamics in a ‘bite-sized’ but impactful way.” 

Junior Frances Gray Riggs — one of the actresses who played Ainsley — notes how “Back Story” is a production for a variety of audiences. The cast’s camaraderie and the director’s unique casting was a delight for both audiences and cast members.

“‘Back Story’ is a hilariously poignant look at what it means to make your way in the world when you have absolutely no idea what you are doing,” Riggs said. “I think it is a play that anyone and everyone can relate to.”