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Duke Players premieres student-written 'The Braveness of Jane'


Full of wonders like sea monsters, labyrinths, minotaurs and puppets, The Duke Players’ upcoming spring show will mirror the real world with fantasy. Written and co-directed by senior Faye Goodwin, “The Braveness of Jane” explores mental illness through the original lens of a heroic quest.

“It’s basically interactions that you have when you’re having a bad day, a bad week, a bad hour—it’s regular interactions with people expanded into this hero’s quest and hero’s journey,” said director Nancy Merlin, a sophomore.

Beginning in the real world then transitioning into fantasy, “The Braveness of Jane” centers on a regular woman and her struggles with her own emotions. Written, directed and produced entirely by students, the show will provide a relatable portrayal of mental health issues. With actors deeply involved in the emotions of the work, the show hopes to artistically communicate the internal strife many people—including Duke students—face.

“It’s a really new piece, so we get to figure out these characters for the first time,” said senior Susanna Booth, who plays Jane.

Playing challenging and emotionally taxing rolls, the actors draw upon personal experiences and observations to express the themes of the plot. Since “The Braveness of Jane” is being shown for the first time, the actors and director have been able to mold the work as rehearsals progressed. Goodwin, the show’s writer, also served as co-director at all the rehearsals, making it easier for the cast and crew to stay true to the original vision of the piece.

“Having Faye here as a co-director, it’s easier to make sure we’re sticking to what she wants the show to be,” Merlin said. 

Goodwin initially became interested in writing plays after taking a playwriting and screenwriting class with Neal Bell in the Theater Studies Department. With support from Bell, Goodwin finished an initial draft of “The Braveness of Jane” in approximately four months and took her work to a writing festival in Iowa last summer to get advice from professional playwrights.

“It’s a ton of work—but the support I’ve gotten from my peers and the theater department has been astonishing,” Goodwin said. 

Seeing “The Braveness of Jane” come to life has been extremely rewarding for Goodwin, and she hopes to continue writing plays in the future. Tackling this particular was rewarding not just for the cast, but the actors and directors as well. 

“The reason I really like the script is the play gets it—the play just gets what it’s like to be in a rough patch or have mental health problems,” Merlin said. 

Providing a student’s artistic perspective on mental illness, “The Braveness of Jane” hopes to add to on-campus discussion and awareness of mental health issues.

“We’ve had a lot of great discussions about mental health on campus— such as the Me Too Monologues and National Alliance on Mental Illness’ Mental Health Week—and this dovetails nicely on those initiatives,” Booth said. 

Although “The Braveness of Jane” would be worth seeing solely due to its thematic focus, it is also important to campus culture because of its origins—it stands out as a completely student-created production on a campus where most performed works are not student-written.

“There’s so little student writing at Duke compared to almost any other university,” Goodwin said. “It’s important for students to support their peers and see what they’re working on.”

Whether hoping to support student work, to encounter a new perspective on mental health or to just see a new production, students will find an emotional, imaginative yet truthful story in “The Braveness of Jane.” 

“The end of the show is a little hard to watch, but when it’s done with its full emotional intensity I get floored,” Merlin said. 

“The Braveness of Jane” will be performed in Brody Theater March 31-April 3 at 8 p.m. each evening.


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