Humor and sorrow in “Stitches”: a senior project done right


Stephanie Zello

“Stitches” is a dramatic comedy written and directed by Stephanie Zello. It’s the senior project of Zello and Hannah Publicover, who designed the set. According to the program, it is a “dramedy filled with stupid patients, angry doctors and drunk idiots”; it is also heartwarming, delightfully funny and eye-moisteningly sad.

I sat down with Zello to discuss her creative process and how she feels about the experience now that the play’s two-day run is over.

She began writing “Stitches” in her junior year, but for her that was the easy part.
“It was just one of those times where I just sat down and it was all just coming to me and I was just writing,” said Zello. “I had friends that were reading it page by page as I was finishing writing it. It was really quick, actually.”

The play is set in Gallows Memorial Hospital, a sorry little health center where the administration is nepotistic, the doctors are stressed out, the patients are painfully annoying, the nurses are accustomed to casual sexual harassment and the receptionist is busy playing “Candy Crush” on her phone.
A hospital was chosen as the setting, according to Zello, because she spent a lot of time in and out of them as a child due to a heart condition.

“One of the doctors, Jake, is someone from my real life,” she said. “He’s actually a nurse though, a surgical nurse. He has been really helpful for me in a lot of my process.

“Because it was an emotional kind of process [writing] this play, there were a lot of aspects from friends in my life and people that have helped me and things that I’ve gone through that I just wanted to get out on paper. I think it really helped me kind of get into that and get into the characters and understand everything. I guess my inspiration was life. My life, other people’s stories. I’m a really character-driven person, so I really like to hear people’s personal stories.”

Zello aims to be a hands-on type of director. “I’d be at rehearsals and production meetings every night and everything,” she said. “I like to go and help paint and stuff and work on the sets. I didn’t get to do as much of that for this show as I wanted to because I’m doing two shows at once right now, but I like to try to be involved in all of the aspects.”

While writing and directing “Stitches” was relatively easy for her, the nervous tension of having to attend its public performances was not.

“Oh my god, [I was] so nervous,” she said. “You know, I thought everyone was doing so well at rehearsals and everything, but still I would sit there and go, ‘oh my god, everyone is going to see this though!’ Then I would just kind of freak out, but it wasn’t like full-on panic attacks, it was just like ‘oh my god, this is happening!’ Now that it’s over it feels just like a whirlwind.

“I’m used to, with stage managing, being in the booth calling the show. So actually sitting there amongst the audience and watching, I’m just like looking around; I feel paranoid because I’m like: ‘Did you laugh at that? Did you like it? Did you actually laugh at it or are you laughing at it because you’re my friend and you’re sitting near me? What’s going on here? Oh wait, other people laughed? I don’t even know him! It’s not for me then.’ It was nerve-racking.”

If the reaction of the audience was any indication, “Stitches” was very well-received. Even on the Saturday showing, which for obvious reasons was not as well-attended as the premier, people laughed and cried and seemed generally to be moved by both the story and the performances.

“Friday night was definitely better,” she said. “There was a lot of energy. Everybody was really excited to perform the show, and everything went really smooth. Saturday night Act I was a little bit bumpy, but I think Act II they pulled it together again. But yeah, Friday night was definitely everyone’s favorite night. Even just like doing the raffle, everyone had so much energy. And it was like ‘oh this is great!’ And we had a standing ovation Friday night which was really cool. It was really nice to see. [It] made everybody feel really good after the show.”

Choosing a favorite character was not easy for her. “I really enjoyed writing all of them,” she said, “and obviously I enjoyed everything my actors did with them. I think my favorite character though is kind of a toss-up between Jake and Dr. K. There’s just something about Dr. K where he’s really charismatic and fun, but he also has that caring friend kind of a side. I feel like I try to be that for certain people and that’s the part that I really connect with him, and so every time he’d be on I would just feel a really good vibe off of him.”

Zello has a knack for writing characters who feel like real people; albeit exaggerated for theatrical effect. It’s true of Jake, Dr. K, and the other main characters as well.

As a senior who has gone through Dibden’s Theatre and Drama major, she offers these words of advice for the freshmen who are just entering and finding their footing: “I think that Dibden, and the whole theater there, we’re a big family and everyone’s really supportive and anything that you want to try to do—try it. If you want to try writing, try writing. If you want to try directing, ask people to assistant direct. We didn’t really have the assistant directing position until last year and I just jumped at that too. Whatever you want to try and get into, try every aspect and your friends here, your fellow students. We’re like a family, they’re going to help you, they’re going to read things, they’re going to tell you if it’s shit or not.”

That’s as true for green newbies as it is for seasoned veterans. While “Stitches” is certainly Zello’s baby, she’s quick to point out that she couldn’t have done it without help.

“The biggest supporters and the biggest help was my stage manager Katie Finegan and [my] set designer Hannah Publicover,” she said. “It was also her senior project. The two of them are rock stars. They put the whole set together and they worked on all those little details and things. They were amazing. Katie supported me like crazy the whole week before the show. I was like, ‘we can’t do the show, people will see it,’ and she was like, ‘that’s the point, Steph.’ So, yeah, they were a huge help.”

As Zello talks about “Stitches” and all the work that went into it on her part and on the part of the cast and crew, her eyes twinkle with delight.

“I get really proud of all the actors,” she said, “because I know how hard they worked and how hard all the crew worked to make it come to life. It’s also real exciting to see your stuff come to life—and all your characters, but knowing how exactly it all comes together gives you really that sense of pride and accomplishment.”