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'Dry Land,' debuting Feb. 6 at the Hippodrome, tackles young female friendship and unwanted pregnancy

“Dry Land” will make its debut on Feb. 6 at 6 p.m. for one night only at The Hippodrome Theatre in downtown Gainesville. (Chloe Spears/WUFT News)
“Dry Land” will make its debut on Feb. 6 at 6 p.m. for one night only at The Hippodrome Theatre in downtown Gainesville. (Chloe Spears/WUFT News)

The struggle of navigating high school as a teenage girl can be difficult, but when faced with an unwanted pregnancy, seeking out unconventional options may be the only answer.

The Hippodrome Theater, as a part of its The Hipp Unplugged: A Staged Reading Series, debuts its one-night reading of “Dry Land” on Monday, Feb. 6, at 6 p.m.

The play, written by Ruby Rae Spiegel, tackles the hard-hitting reality of a 17-year-old girl who is desperate to have a self-induced abortion.

Ella Romaine, a student at the University of Florida’s College of Theatre and Dance, takes on the leading role of Amy, a 17-year-old high schooler in Florida, who is desperate for an abortion in her high school’s locker room.

“I think this a really important story that is so much bigger than me,” Romaine said.

According to Romaine, the play ultimately focuses on the topics of female friendship and having each other’s back during a time of crisis regardless of one’s age.

The play begins with Amy and Ester, played by Alina Sunoo, conversing in their high school’s locker room. It is made known to the audience that the girls do not have a close relationship, said Romaine. Amy is ashamed of her situation and too embarrassed to ask one of her closest friends for help.

As the characters share a traumatic scene together in the locker room, the atmosphere quickly changes to reviewing flashcards in preparation for a presentation.

Given Romaine’s experience growing up as a teenager in Florida and her proximity in age to her character, she says the play tackles a human experience that everyone has lived through in some form of personal crisis.

This is Romaine’s first production with the Hippodrome alongside University of Florida professor and “Dry Land” director Michelle Bellaver.

Bellaver, a Hippodrome company maker, dug into the script of “Dry Land” during a script analysis course she taught in spring 2022.

“I knew this play was very special,” she said,” and what I noticed was how much the undergraduate students really connected to the story and how much it affected them. It is not that often you get plays that feel like they’re written for young women in their perspective.”

As the play is a script reading, it will take place in the Hippodrome cinema. Actors began rehearsal on Sunday in preparation for its showing on Feb. 6.

Given a week to prepare for the show, the actors are forced to get really clear about what story is being told, said Bellaver. By not having the usual four to five weeks to prepare for the show, the actors and Bellaver must rely on their intuition and trust their talents.

Bellaver said she has no doubts that the audience will react positively to “Dry Land.” In addition to the season subscribers who have been attending shows in the 50 years that the Hippodrome has been established, she believes that this show will bring in a new crowd of people who have never attended a show at the Hippodrome.

Olivia Bradshaw, the stage manager of The Hipp Unplugged, said that the staged reading will contain basic elements of production such as lighting, projection and minimal sound cues. However, the focus is directed toward the stage reading to draw importance to the young characters and the abortion scene.

“We are respectful to the stage reading while still making those enhancements so the audience can really get invested,” she said.

According to Bradshaw, The Hipp Unplugged was developed to enhance minorities’ opportunities and allow the Hippodrome the experiment on more controversial topics with their audiences.

“It’s Florida, and it’s abortion,” Bradshaw said. “It’s kind of dipping our toe into the community and saying: How many people are going to show up? And can we do this full-fledged in the future?”

“Dry Land” is the second show of The Hipp Unplugged series. There will be two more to follow, including “Really,” debuting on March 20 and a second show in June still to be announced.

According to the Hippodrome website, “Dry Land” may not be suitable for people under the age of 16 due to mature content and strong language.

Tickets will be $10 for all ages and can be purchased on the Hippodrome website or at the box office on Feb. 6.

“We need to start introducing these topics to our audiences,” Bradshaw said. “We are not hiding anything. The content is graphic and is meant to leave the audience with a newfound perspective. The author makes it clear through the script that the last few scenes are meant to be exposed graphically though it may make the audience uncomfortable.”

Chloe is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.