Profile: Pioneer senior Annie Chen takes her directing seriously and collaboratively

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There is something magical about a blank sheet of paper. At one time, “Yesterday” was a blank piece of paper until Paul McCartney picked up a pencil – now we all believe in “Yesterday.”

A blank “stage” has that same attraction, that same feeling, that same kind of magical draw – just ask Annie Chen.

“Being able to take a stack of paper and turn it into a play is pretty amazing,” says Chen. “You find these little interpretive moments where you can inject a little bit of your own creative voice and others where an actor or techie’s talent can really shine.”

Chen, a veteran of many past Pioneer Theatre Guild productions, is directing Real Life RPG for the upcoming PTG’s production of “The Play at Home Project,” a series of eight plays specially developed to be performed virtually during the pandemic. She enjoyed the team approach of creating something, well, magical.

“I really believe in collaborating with everyone involved with the production, so having discussions and getting to hear all these different ideas that you never would have dreamed of was definitely one of my favorite parts of rehearsal,” she said. “I think they truly made the finished play so much better.”

Chen, a senior at Pioneer, says the premise of Real Life RPG is “downright brilliant.”

“We follow a trio of heroes aided by a mysterious guide, battling a series of villains who are trying to spread negativity throughout the world,” she says. “It’s a very familiar concept, but Piniella’s script makes these ‘battles’ really unique: we’ve got dancing, singing, and even a few childhood games.

“Additionally, the structure (or lack thereof) of these battles leaves tons of room for variation, meaning that no two productions of this play will be the same. We had an amazingly talented cast with a plethora of experiences, and their comedic flair kept us constantly laughing throughout production.”

If directing doesn’t work out, Chen has a future in sales, because she just sold this play better than any marketing company ever could. She says everyone should find something to like in Real Life RPG.

“It’s a lighthearted story with a really great message that appeals to younger audiences, but it also has a lot of funny moments that adults will enjoy,” she says.

Of course, there have been unique challenges directing a play in 2020. One of the biggest challenges, according to Chen, is not having physical interaction between characters.

“It was a little tricky, so we tried to work around that by emphasizing verbal interactions and reactions, and by adding a lot of sound effects to create a unified atmosphere,” she said. “We also had some trouble receiving our backdrops and costumes, so our stage manager and one of our cast members stepped up and delivered everything themselves.

“We were always very aware of how stressed the world was making everyone, especially because our production overlapped with the election, so we tried our best to make our rehearsals an opportunity to break away from all of that and have a bit of fun.”

Chen, who has appeared in High School Musical, FutureStars 2018, The Crucible, In the Heights, Student Productions 2018, Willy Wonka, FutureStars 2019, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, FAME, Student Productions 2019, Matilda, FutureStars 2020, and Our Town, hopes to continue pursuing dramatic arts after high school.

“I’m also hoping to go to film school and pursue a career in directing,” she says. “I’m definitely open to continuing theatre in college, but even if I don’t, my experience with PTG will absolutely stick with me for the rest of my life.”

By Terry Jacoby