Lights, camera, exploding children: App State’s “The Trolleys”


Aldo Sarabia

The Trolleys by Sara West, is a play that captivates the audience with the performance and theme. It can be enjoyed by children and adults alike. Oct. 2, 2022.

Amena Matcheswala, Reporter

App State’s Department of Theatre and Dance performed “The Trolleys” Oct. 5-9 at the Valborg Theatre in Chapell Wilson. The play is directed by Gina Grandi and has been in rehearsal stages for six weeks. 

The show, written by Sara West, targets young audiences with the story of seven children living in the outskirts of a city. Each child holds a jar with a light in it, representing their life force. However, their lights are now fading, and the play follows the children on their journey; understanding what’s happening to their lights before they explode into dust. 

“In our production meetings we actually talked about the fact that light is its own character, essentially, in the show. The script indicated specifically when the lights dim, when they brighten, when they wane, so we really had to focus on the role that light plays in this world,” said Travis Pressley, senior theatre education major and assistant director of the show.

Savage Kim, the oldest of the group, acts as the leader but struggles with an internal problem. As the play progresses, this internal problem becomes external and the dynamic of the group is tested. Oct. 2, 2022. (Aldo Sarabia)

Shows are chosen by the department’s season selection committee made up of faculty and students who read a variety of plays and decide which are relevant in the world, Pressley said. The committee takes into consideration the relevance of the play at this time and how receptive audiences in Boone will be. 

“I think the show speaks a lot to the current climate of our world, especially post-COVID,” said Pressley. “It speaks to the transition from high school to college and then college to adulthood, you’re just kind of left to figure out those things on your own. So it really just tells the story of love and friendship and togetherness.”

Dramaturges Allie Mariotte, senior theatre education major, and Alex Contianos, junior general theatre major, worked through the summer creating a study guide based on the show that will be sent out to surrounding elementary schools. The pair also created workshop activities associated with the show, and will spend time in October in various local classrooms leading these workshops based on which one is chosen by the teacher. Their study guide is available for free, and anyone who would like to use it may contact Christy Blair Chenausky, director of arts education and outreach, at

Certain additional elements of preparation were required by actors to preserve the child-like nature of the show. The entire first week of rehearsals was spent working on movement work, bonding work, community work and deep character work in order to find nuance in characters that are ultimately written to be simple and childlike, Grandi said.

Each character have distinct traits and personalities. Phlegm, one of the older children in the show, adds humor and mischievousness to the act. Oct. 2, 2022. (Aldo Sarabia)

“The effort that it takes to develop — to go back into yourself for a childlike representation for the stage, it’s harder than it looks. It took us a couple weeks just to figure out, and study, different ages of kids, we had to play games just to get into that childlike mindset. We prepped. We prepped so hard,” said freshman theatre performance major Delta McCalister.

The character work put in by actors was not the only background work to impact the show. This particular show involved many complicated technical elements, Pressley said. 

 Chris Yon, dance professor and the show’s choreographer, partnered with the show’s team for scenes involving movement work. Musical elements of the show include the Trolleys’ drumming song, performed by the main six children, and a song that leads the children to leave their hideout in search of answers about their jars of light. Drumming professor Khalid Abdul N’Faly Saleem also worked with the show for many of the musical elements that serve to encapsulate the youthful nature of the show, Mariotte said. 

“A student (Cecilia Chan) was our set designer, and another student (Wil Martin, the assistant sound designer) composed the melody for Lemon’s song,” said Grandi, “Our design and tech area is just amazing, and this show lets all those aspects – costumes, lighting, sound, set design, and props design – really shine.”

Show night brought an atmosphere of tenderness, curiosity, and compassion to the Valborg Theatre, said various audience members. Technical aspects of the show were honed into a fine point, resulting in dramatic moments such as the spellbinding explosion of “duster” children into colorful dust. The lights flickered along to the mood of the characters, challenging audiences to guess what was happening within the characters beyond the captivating details portrayed through their acting. 

While the show was short, lasting only approximately 45 minutes, it took audiences on a journey through grief, laughter, and contemplation– a cluster of thought-provoking emotions while still sticking to its roots of being a children’s show.

“It had me at the edge of my seat. The music really antsed me up, I was very curious the whole time– trying to follow the story, trying to figure out, like, what’s the main point? What’s going to happen? Who are these characters? It was tender, and you can quote me on that one,” said freshman creative writing major Nicole Iancu.