What do a quote from “The Fault in Our Stars,” a popcorn bucket and a movie night all have in common? For most people, those three things share little connection, but for Gabby Janes, the connection is enough to create an entire theatrical performance.
Janes, a senior biology and theater double major, is president and artistic director of the Redeye Theatre Project — a group that puts together full-blown plays in just 24 hours. At all of their performances, members pull a line, a prop and a plot point from a hat that they must incorporate into the show. Janes was once given a quote from “The Fault in Our Stars,” a popcorn bucket and the prompt “having a movie night,” which was enough to let her creativity run wild.
“That’s what we had to write our script based on,” Janes said. “Somehow, from there, we ended up having a show about people switching bodies by sneezing at the same time and somebody getting possessed by a dog.”
Despite the spontaneous nature of Redeye, the process of producing a play is incredibly time-intensive for the duration of the performance. Members spend almost every moment of the 24 hours working on their play, all while operating on little to no sleep.
“On festival weekends, we have auditions on Friday night,” Janes said. “And then writers pick the actors they like and start writing their scripts around 8 to 9 p.m. Then they write until they are finished, usually around 2 a.m. Then go home, sleep for a couple of hours, and come back in the morning.”
But Redeye’s distinctive schedule works for Janes. The artistic director promotes Redeye as being less time intensive than other productions, such as a departmental play.
“I always tell people it’s great if you want to do theater, but you don’t have the time to commit to a full department production,” Janes said. “It’s one weekend. We have several festivals each semester, but you can sign up for one and never do it again if you don’t have the time. It’s great. It’s so low pressure and everyone is just having a great time.”
Redeye began holding festivals in 2004 and will celebrate its 20th anniversary next year. The club holds several festivals each semester, but, due to Redeye’s unusual production schedule, each festival is completely different.
Even when Janes first joined Redeye, people took note of how she fit in the organization. Hannah Dewhurst, who was artistic director for Redeye last year, immediately saw potential in Janes.
“She started doing Redeye as an actor and I could tell immediately that this was her domain,” Dewhurst said. “She fit in very well with Redeye’s original storytelling. And you really need to be able to let go and really express yourself artistically, and she fit into that great.”
Creating a Redeye play takes passion, and Janes’ love for theater is palpable. The senior originally worked as an actor at Redeye, but recently switched to writing scripts.
Kelly Trumbull, a teaching artist and interim head of MFA performance pedagogy, frequently collaborates with Janes on various projects. The pair worked together on the play “Dance Nation,” which Trumbull directed. Janes also took several of Trumbull’s classes, including Voice and Movement. She said Janes uses her creativity to go beyond the limits of what’s possible with theater.
“[Janes] really likes to push boundaries in terms of what’s possible with theater,” Trumbull said. “That’s why I think Redeye is a perfect vehicle for her because it is a little outside the box in regards to not being conventional in any way.”
In addition to getting to push boundaries, theater is enjoyable for Janes because it allows her to return to childhood memories of playing pretend with friends.
“I feel like, as you get older, you stop playing pretend with your friends,” Janes said. “And when you do theater, it’s like playing pretend with your friends — like little kids. And it’s so much fun, and I love it.”
Even as a child, Janes took acting much more seriously than just playing pretend and began searching for acting opportunities early on in life.
“So my theatrical debut was technically when I was four,” Janes said. “I played Rainbow Fish in [the play] “Rainbow Fish” at my preschool. And I always really liked the concept of performance and entertainment. I didn’t do a ton of theater for a while after my theatrical debut, but I always wanted to.”
Janes’ lifelong passion for theater led her to Redeye, where she gained a significant leadership role. As president and artistic director, Janes has a hand in almost every aspect of Redeye’s productions. From writing scripts to managing performances, the work is a lot for one person. But Janes’ work ethic enables her to handle the stress and make Redeye successful.
Trumbull spoke to Janes’ work ethic, as she had Janes in class and saw her passion firsthand.
“In class she is very game, present and hardworking,” Trumbull said. “She just really does have a genuine love of theater arts. I’ve had Gabby every semester for the past three or maybe even four, and she’s just a really great person to have in class, a great energy to have in the room.”
On the stage, Trumbull also sees Janes shine and her dedication to the performances. She recounts when Janes stepped up when the lead actor didn’t show up.
“One day we had an actor who was out and didn’t have an understudy,” Trumbull said. “And Gabby Janes stepped into that person’s role, not even having been assigned to cover that role. She nailed it and she had been so present and attentive during rehearsal that she was able to step into a role that she wasn’t even covering during that production.”
Despite her endless passion and notable work ethic, Janes said she likely won’t pursue theater full time once she graduates from Pitt.
“It’s definitely something I want to continue doing in some sense,” Janes said. “I’ll probably have a day job and maybe audition for something outside of that,”
In the meanwhile, the dream remains for Janes.
“Maybe if I’m feeling really brave, I’ll be like one of those people who are like, alright, I’m giving five years of putting all my efforts into this, and if it doesn’t work out I’ll give up.”