On humor, moss & tornadoes

There are plenty of things that inspire Travis Helwig as a playwright: Russian writer and playwright Anton Chekhov, Brooklyn-based rock outfit The Hold Steady and the past 21 years of his own life.

Most significantly, though, Helwig cites receSs, the GW-based improv comedy group he has worked with for the past three years, as inspiration for playwriting.

The senior, majoring in sociology with a minor in theater, will present his original work, “Lots and Lots of Moss,” with Generic Theater Company in Mitchell Hall Theater this weekend.

The title, Helwig said, comes from the Bob Dylan song “Like a Rolling Stone” and is a reference to the saying “A rolling stone gathers no moss.” Helwig wrote the play as an independent study with playwriting professor Patricia Griffith over the course of last fall and this past summer, completing it in February.

Though he has never directed before, Helwig is no stranger to the campus theater community. Aside from working with receSs, he acted in “Radio Free America” and “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and wrote a play for the New Plays Festival this past fall.

“Lots and Lots of Moss” revolves around a group of college kids who are home for the summer. The show takes place over the duration of two house parties.

“It’s a play about fear of change, a play where nobody does what they want to do,” he said.

A large portion of the play is based on an episode of “This American Life” Helwig heard on NPR, in which a group of kids were at prom as their town was destroyed by a tornado.

“These kids were just having the best time of their life, and they come out to see their whole town just gone. It caused them to blame themselves,” he said, referencing a scene from his play when a character is cheating on his girlfriend during a tornado.

Helwig classifies his work as a comedy.

“I wanted to write a comedy with some depth to it because I feel like comedy is often pushed aside for having no value,” he said. “Comedy can be more than just dick and fart jokes.”

Helwig spoke to the challenge of directing a work he wrote – specifically in hearing actors perform his writing.

“It’s jarring to hear your characters with a real voice and not the awkward whispers that the people around me hear when I’m writing. But when you get used to a certain voice for a character, it’s difficult to hear it any other way,” he said. “It’s also terribly difficult to not sound pretentious when you say things like, ‘The script implies this,’ when you are just referring to something you wrote hungover a few months earlier.”

“Lots and Lots of Moss” will be performed in the Mitchell Hall Theater on Friday, April 3 and Saturday, April 4 at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. and on Sunday, April 5 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $5.

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