Inspired by the spiritualist leanings of the founder of William Smith College, a new audio production by the HWS Theatre Department invites listeners to explore a third coordinate school on campus — Geneva’s College of the Veil.
The HWS Theatre Department had planned for one show of the 2020-2021 season to be an audio production, but Associate Professor of Theatre Chris Woodworth wanted it to be more than a typical radio drama.
Inspired by a podcast that had the audience walk to specific locations before listening, allowing them to essentially become a character in the show, Woodworth and her students added an HWS twist: their production exists in a new realm inspired by the spiritualist leanings of William Smith, the founder of William Smith College.
Noting that William Smith regularly conversed with the deceased — one of his automatic writing journals is stored in the Colleges’ Archives — Woodworth explains that he had intended to start a spiritualist training school in Geneva, rather than a women’s college. “We decided to start this theatrical production from the premise that he still opened that school and that it’s a secret, underground third coordinate.” Geneva’s College of the Veil was born.
In Supernatural Saunter, nine students perform in short audio plays that take place in locations across campus, including Coxe Hall, the benches overlooking Seneca Lake on South Main Street, the William Smith statue on William Smith Hill and the Sunken Gardens at Houghton House.
Students not only serve as actors in the production, they also wrote the plays and helped to produce the finished audio with Resident Sound Designer and Instructor of Sound Design for Theatre Kelly Walker.
The writing process was so enjoyable and successful that students went on to create a series of monologues that also take place in the College of the Veil. Those pieces take place in Williams Hall, St. John’s Chapel and the Blackwell Room.
“This has just been one of the most extraordinary collaborations with students that I’ve experienced here,” says Woodworth. “The students are amazingly creative and have expanded the curriculum at the College of the Veil in ways I never imagined they would.”
“What I really take the most pride in is this newfound ability to make something really riveting from virtually nothing. I especially love that’s it’s entirely new— that’s been really fun,” Christina Roc ’24 says. After collaboratively writing numerous drafts, Roc says her favorite part of the journey was when it all came together, “and the joy within everyone as our non-living pieces started to breathe.”
Troy Tedeschi ’22 agrees. “I’m most proud of how cohesive the production was as a whole. Each play, its performances, its sound and music were all created at different times by different people and were ever evolving. Each element complements the others so well, its down right impressive that we all came together on one incredibly unique vision for the show despite the variety of ideas present in each piece,” he says.
Audience members can access Supernatural Saunter in two ways: from the comfort of home via the website or while on campus. Posted signs provide QR codes that, once scanned with a smartphone, will play the audio that takes place at each location. The plays are meant to be listened to in any order, allowing audience members to craft their own journey through the veil.
Supernatural Saunter is available from April 3 – June 30.