Sweet Briar College senior Molly Harper literally stumbled into acting in high school. After failing to make the volleyball team, the Maryland native spotted a theater flyer on her way out of the gym.
“I went home and told my mother that I was going to audition,” she says. “Once I got into that show, I never left the theater.”
This month, Harper will present her final directing project, “Lies,” at 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 19, and Saturday, April 20, in Babcock Studio Theatre at Sweet Briar College.
Written and directed by Harper, who also composed all of the music, the play is a collection of monologues documenting lies by various characters and the reasoning behind them.
“As the audience watches the pieces move together, the … entanglement of lies develops into other issues of self-consciousness, self-perception, doubt, loneliness, depression and a strive to work for something honest and hopeful,” Harper says. “I hope that this play shows the universality of human emotions and how everyone feels the same way at one point or another.”
The characters’ struggle and fragmented self-image are also reflected in the set, which Harper designed.
“Set design is one of my favorite hobbies, and it just so happens that our set is based on broken mirrors,” she says. “[It’s] a physical manifestation of the misinterpreted image … these characters have developed about themselves and the lies they have told over time.”
Harper, who will graduate in May with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in theater and music and an Arts Management Certificate, started developing the play when she wrote her first monologue for the College’s “Diversity Monologues.” That text later became part of “Lies.”
Started in 2011 to promote dialogue on campus, “Diversity Monologues” features performances by several Sweet Briar students who talk about their personal experiences to spark conversations about diversity and civility. Staged during first-year orientation, the monologues are among a number of commitments on Harper’s calendar. She’s also a member of Paint and Patches, Earphones, Taps and Toes, GLOW, Silhouettes, and served as InterClub Council president for the SGA board this year.
Inducted into Alpha Lambda Delta and Alpha Psi Omega, Harper has been a Dean’s List honor student since her first year at Sweet Briar and in 2012 made the Who’s Who in American Colleges and Universities list. In addition, Harper, who is a Work Study assistant for the theater department and a theater tutor, received the theater department’s award for Excellence in Academics two years in a row.
“I love my department, because they’re always extremely helpful and willing to work with you on anything,” she says, remembering what it was like when Bill Kershner, director of the performing arts department, gave her a large role during her first year at Sweet Briar.
“I was so intimated,” she admits. “But as we worked together, he showed me what real acting was, and I knew that acting was what I was good at.”
This summer, Harper is taking her experience one step further. Along with other Sweet Briar theater students and faculty, she will travel to Scotland for the Edinburgh International Fringe Festival to perform in “Chops,” a play by Kirin McCrory.
“I play the lead, Marg, who has been accused of killing off all the men in town, but as most comedies go, nothing is as it seems. It’s quite a funny piece.”
Harper’s previous theater credits include “The Bacchae” (Second Messenger), “Under Milkwood” (Second Voice), “Dsvelada: Senior Show” (master carpenter), “The Secret Garden” (Mrs. Medlock), “Glass Menagerie” (master carpenter), “Crimes of the Heart” (stage manager), “Aladdin Jr.” (set designer/master carpenter), “As You Like It” (Touchstone), “The Beauty Queen of Leenane” (Mag), “Doubt” (Sister Aloysius), “The King and I” (master carpenter) and “Waiting for Godot” (Pozzo).
“Lies” stars fellow seniors Noelle Ames and Catherine Ramos, as well as Taneal Williams ’16, Patricia Morgan ’15 and Mariah Skalka ’14. Behind the stage, Harper is getting help from stage manager Madeline Skiba ’16, props master Julia Green ’13, master carpenter Sarah Capen ’15, sound designer Charlotte Hopkins ’15 and video projection operator Latoya Letmon ’14.