UT graduate student premieres original play Tuesday


Marshall Nolen

Lowell Bartholome,  Raquel Watson and Ellie McBride appear on stage in Katie Bender’s original new work, “The Fault.” The play is about a poor family with 3 daughters all struggling to find their place in the world and the show is scheduled premier Dec. 3 as part of UT’s upcoming theatre season.

Eleanor Dearman

Katie Bender left the world of acting to be a playwright. After being on stage for most of her life, the third year graduate student took control of her creative process, which resulted in “The Fault” — a new work, selected to show beginning Tuesday as part of UT’s theater season. 

“This play started with a lot of free writing, and I had no idea where it was going,” Bender said. “The only thing I knew was that it had to do with the redwoods and the ocean and this tiny house with a crack in the middle of it.“

“The Fault” is the story of three sisters struggling to find their place and identity in the world, either through a location or personal relationships. The play grapples with the theme of inheritance, its characters struggling with the stories, addictions and personalities passed down from their parents.

“What would be amazing is if the audience felt they saw some of their own families’ patterns in here,“ Bender said. “And thought about the patterns they’ve picked up from their parents, and the patterns they pass on to their children.”

Each sister has her own challenges to face. The youngest, Star, is sweet but struggles with drug addiction; middle sister Jane is smart and desperately wants to escape by leaving for college; and the oldest and toughest, Angie, has been kicked out of the house and also has a drug problem.

“This play really clearly deals with those three sisters,” director Charles Otte said. “How they need to figure out their lives themselves and in some ways become adults and break free of their parents in order to fulfill their own lives.”  

Estrella Gonzales, theatre and dance junior, who plays Angie in ”The Fault,” said that she had to explore the source of Angie’s anger and drug addiction.

“That has been a struggle, as far as playing this character, just really trying to grasp the mentality of all the hardship she must have gone through to make her the way she is, then trying to grapple with her decision to take the drugs and how her family plays into that,” Gonzales said. “How they serve motivation for her to get high and motivation for her to stop.”

The cast and director made sure the play’s story stayed as true to Bender’s script and intent as possible, especially since this is “The Fault’s” first production.

“It’s the challenge of making it personal without ever straying from the truth of Katie’s story,” Gonzales said. “And making sure the family dynamic and the through line of the whole arc of their journey is really clear.”

“The Fault” was inspired by the “alternative lifestyles” of people in Santa Cruz, Calif., where Bender spent part of her youth, and it is loosely based on the lives of her sisters. The California setting lends itself to Otte’s interest in projected media. 

“Almost everything we are doing involves the use of projected media not only to represent realistic scenes, but also to represent the sometimes subjective, emotional content that’s going on within the scene,” Otte said.

The set features white panels that can have images projected onto them in addition to other pieces and props. 

“We move from inside the house out to the beach. You can see the ocean and you can see the stars,” Otte said. “It’s almost like a living movie in a way where you’re able to bring out elements you wouldn’t be able to bring out in a traditional set.” 

Bender had a large part in the set as well as the direction of the show. She frequently attended rehearsals, provided notes and added or rewrote scenes to enhance the play. 

“The strange thing about playwriting is that it really needs a company,” Bender said. “Writing is pretty lonely. You hope that what you write sounds the way you want people to sound when they talk to each other, but you really have no idea what it sounds like when you’re by yourself.”

New work allows the cast, crew, director and writer to control the creation process of a production in a more direct, collaborative way than when performing a classic play. 

“New work is a great way to take that power back and not wait for somebody to write a role that you can play and that you’re going to be passionate and proud putting it on stage,” Gonzales said. “It’s kind of taking that power and saying ‘I’m going to make a piece of art.’”