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Thursday, May 23, 2024

“Friends” on stage combines humor, ’90s nostalgia and 2022 pandemic angst

The performance included two 20-minute episodes, “The One Where No One’s Ready” and an oiginal episode called “The One with the Pandemic.”
The performance included two 20-minute episodes, “The One Where No One’s Ready” and an oiginal episode called “The One with the Pandemic.”

The beloved ’90s sitcom “Friends” came to the stage at Middlebury this winter. On Jan. 21, Middlebury theatre students put on a reimagined portrayal of the beloved show, performing two 20-minute episodes: “The One Where No One’s Ready” and “The One With the Pandemic.” The latter was an original episode written by Kayla Schwartz ’23.5. 

The student-written episode, as well as the episode from the show, were both bottle episodes, or, “an episode in a season of TV where they have a whole episode happen in one location, usually the main location of the show,” director Bella Costantino-Carrigan ’22 explained. Often, bottle episodes are created for budgetary purposes, and usually only involve the main cast members of the show. 

The idea for a “Friends” reenactment came when Schwartz approached Costantino-Carrigan to write a spec script, a script written for an episode of a show that already exists, like “Friends.”

“She was like, ‘that's insane, let’s do it,’” Schwartz recalls. The two got to work casting parts and writing the new episode, initially intending the performance to be a full-scale production, with the classic “Friends” couch and other set elements, as well as costumes.  However, they were met with some challenges after students got back from winter break. 

“The first week was the week we got back and we just weren’t sure what was going on with Covid and what could be in person, so we essentially didn’t have a week to rehearse,” Schwartz said. Schwartz and Costantino-Carrigan decided to scale back their production. 

The actual production involved lights and pre-recorded sounds like phone calls and music to tie the episode together, as if it were actually happening on television.

The episodes ran one after another, each featuring their own six-member cast. During the theme song breaks, all cast members got to their feet to dance to the nostalgic beat of the show’s iconic theme song “I’ll Be There for You,” by The Rembrandts, bringing more life to the already vibrant and humorous elements of the show. 

The first episode, Schwartz’s “The One With the Pandemic,” involved a humorous modern interpretation of current events. The characters grappled with the stress of the pandemic and made light of the bizarre events that have occurred between 2020 and 2021. 

“The past couple semesters have been really hard on everyone and I think our community needs a little bit of a laugh,” Schwartz said of their decision to write the episode.  

“The One Where No One’s Ready” evoked a humored and nostalgic response as the cast brought to life the ever-lovable, and sometimes exasperating, characters, and world of “Friends,” reminiscent of more carefree times.  

Costantino-Carrigan and Schwartz also aimed for their cast list to reflect a variety of different experience levels. “We have a cast of twelve … they range from freshmen to super senior Febs and from experience of ‘this is my first time on stage at Middlebury’ to veterans of the department and full theatre majors,” Costantino-Carrigan said.

With minimal time commitment involved, the production gave students an opportunity to participate in a fun and unique show in addition to other J-Term activities.  

The cast had two rehearsals and a read-through before taking the stage before an audience. 

“During the rehearsals we read through the script standing on the stage … mostly just feeling out how we felt about the character, making our own judgments,” Maggie Blake ’24, who played Ross in “The One with the Pandemic,” said. This creative freedom allowed the cast, as well as Costantino-Carrigan and Schwartz, to delve deeper into new areas of theater without fear of imperfections. 

“You could put your all into it in a different way … you could kind of have fun interacting with people and making theater in a more casual and just nonchalant kind of way,” Blake said of the experience. 

J-Term often offers students who are interested in theater more space to explore what they are interested in while also providing theater students with the opportunity to gain experience in a fun community environment. 

“I am interested in directing but it’s definitely not my first priority in the theater world. I’m more of an actor and a designer so it’s more of an exploratory thing for me,” Costantino-Carrigan said. The experimental nature of the process allowed the cast to bring to life the much-loved characters of “Friends,” while drawing out laughter and happiness from the audience. 

“We can get together and do something fun and have a good time doing it and have people have a good time watching it. You know, that’s the goal,” Schwartz said.

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Emily Hogan

Emily Hogan '24 (she/her) is a Local Editor.   

She is studying Environmental Policy with a minor in Math. In addition to writing and editing for the Campus, she also dances with the On Tap dance troupe and serves on the Environmental Council. She has previously worked with the Sustainability Solutions Lab at Middlebury.