ArtQuest performs The Ballad of Big Nothing

CLOSING NIGHT. Senior Madelaine Williams (right, in veil) stars in The Ballad of Big Nothing alongside Maverick Cheney (12, left). Williams The wrote The Ballade with fellow ArtQuest theater president Kayla Perez-Ramsay. Speaking about the writing process, Williams said, “It’s strange to think about how parasitic this project felt as I was working on it. The story lived with me for months… When I left the stage I felt like I’d let a piece of myself walk out of my body and everyone in the audience had it.” This student-written one-act moved audiences with haunting performances. Photo by Nora Mensch

Article by Molly Murphey, Web Editor

On Saturday, February 5, the ArtQuest Theatre Company put on the last of four performances of the student-written one-act The Ballad of Big Nothing. I wish that every student at Santa Rosa High School could have been in attendance because, to me, it represents the best that the ArtQuest program has to offer.

ArtQuest Theatre presidents Kayla Perez-Ramsay and Madelaine Williams wrote The Ballad in collaboration with the ArtQuest Theatre Company and Brent Lindsay, director of local theater company, The Imaginists. 

The Ballad opens as an anonymous husband, played by Maverick Cheney, carries his wife (Williams) across the threshold. The couple follows a mysterious guide through a birthday party, where they meet a frantic Perez-Ramsay, a funeral and into a bar where a dispirited Ava Stubblefield sits by the counter. As their night wears on, the dreamy Williams (an effect achieved by her expertise in doe-eyed facial expressions) slips further from the reluctant Cheney.

The show’s sparse dialogue is interspersed with effective blocking making use of the blackbox theater space and austere set. In the bar, Williams dances in a circle to an atmospheric soundtrack of the Cocteau Twins and Mazzy Star while Sterling Lindsay (dressed in suit and tophat) slowly sweeps back and forth across the stage, stopping to pick up a pair of heels that Perez-Ramsay has wildly thrown to the floor. The costuming by Williams grounds the piece in the mid-20th century in an otherwise mostly ambiguous setting. 

The Ballad is reminiscent of works by mid-century absurdist playwrights and like them, its meaning of The Ballad isn’t easily ascertained. Perez-Ramsay said that when writing The Ballad, she and Williams began with “the theme of cycles and how to break them” but after receiving feedback from audiences, the piece became “more up to the personal experiences of the viewer.”

Williams added that she and Perez-Ramsay “didn’t want something easily digestible to land in the laps of our audience; we wanted something that would make people think and ponder and question and we didn’t want that to end as soon as the show was over.”

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