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Grand Valley Lanthorn

The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

GV theatre professor presents new take on a timeless classic with reading of new play

GVL/ Trenton Estrada

Grand Valley State University Associate Professor of Theatre James Bell held a public reading for his new play “Hear Me Roar” at the Linn Maxwell Keller Black Box Theatre on March 14. 

Conceived during Bell’s sabbatical during the 2023 fall semester, the play takes inspiration from Thomas Decker and Thomas Middleton’s classic play “The Roaring Girl,” which tells the life of Mary Frith, an infamous 17th-century thief and provocateur. More commonly known by her nickname “Moll Cutpurse,” Frith is a figure that has appeared in numerous works since the 1600s.  

Currently in consideration for the GVSU theatre program’s 2025 winter mainstage season, Bell’s reading of “Hear Me Roar” allowed the theatre program and Bell to assess whether it would be feasible for full-scale production by next year.

Being a play that Bell has discussed in theatre history classes previously, Bell said he has criticisms with Frith’s utilization in “The Roaring Girl,” specifically her lack of involvement with the actual drama of the play.

“The play (‘The Roaring Girl’) doesn’t use her in the way it could or do much with her as a character, in many ways,” Bell said. “It feels like the play is exploiting her notoriety to bring in an audience for an otherwise typical romantic play.”  

Enamored by Frith’s larger-than-life caricature-esque reputation, Bell said he wanted to reduce Frith’s role as merely a plot device and feature her more prominently in his play. Bell credited one of his students for recommending a diary rumored to belong to Frith in helping determine the direction of his sabbatical work.  

Additionally, Bell said he wanted to provide GVSU theatre students with an opportunity to engage with original material rather than existing adaptations.

“Working on a new play as a student actor is a really good experience,” Bell said. “It’s unlike working on other plays because there’s no production history; you are the first creation. Those first actors (working on the play) will always have a fingerprint on the way that that character develops because there are rewrites and revisions that happen during the rehearsal process and after the first production.”  

Katie Rain Auberle, a senior at GVSU who performed during Bell’s reading, said the play changed considerably between her initial reading and the public reading on March 14. Auberle said the entire third act of “Hear Me Roar” was created after the first reading, which included complete rewrites of characters and their purpose within the story. 

“I think the third act had a lot of impact on the production that wasn’t there beforehand,” Auberle said. “Jim (Bell) added some storylines, which helped shape it a lot. One of the main characters, Francis, originally did not have much of a story in the first reading. In the second reading, she had a whole plot of her own, which served as a foil and a mirror to Mary’s plot. I thought that was a really cool addition.” 

Often, the actors in a production are separate from the creation process. However, Bell frequently inquired with his students about the play as creators. Auberle said the opportunity to work alongside Bell and have input on the direction of the play was unusual based on her prior acting experience. 

“As an actor, you don’t usually have that much of an impact on the future productions of a play,” Auberle said. “You have an effect on the production that you are in, and you can add different interpretations to it, but you can’t really change the script. But here, it’s really cool being a part of the playwriting process. It’s a really cool opportunity.”

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