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Department of Theatre and Dance

The Art of Making Art: BESTIES

Performance major Samuel Ross West is an affable sort of fellow, with easy shoulders and a ready smile.  He seems the sort of actor who could waltz in and out of boy-next-door and buddy roles, but his acting resume is considerably more varied, ranging from the charming to the farcical to the disturbing.

A regular feature of the UW stage for the past few production seasons, West was hungry to do more creative work.  Student one acts, senior projects, and community theatre beckoned, but he had more ambitious plans.

West decided he would make his own opportunities.

“I came to the realization that if I want to and am going to be an actor, that I should act.  If someone wants to become a director, they should direct, and writers should write.  At some point, we can’t rely on the school to provide these opportunities for us—we have to make our own,” said West.

West had been making a film with playwright and recent alumnus Jaime Cruz and loved it.  He realized he wanted to do more.  

Sam West and Shanna Dana in So West created his own production company, Diorama Productions — so named because it’s  “the play world in a box” — and went to work on a new webseries, “Besties,” about three friends and their neighbor.

“I came up with a couple different ideas,” said West.  “The cheapest and easiest one was the web series we’re doing now, because it’s zero budget, really.”  

West approached fellow student Christopher William Wolter to write, who suggested that the group bring in student James Hockenberry to direct.  Once the group solidified the show concept and the characters, they began to ask people in the department if they were interested in the project. 

“It was crazy how many people really want to be involved in all aspects of the show,” noted West.  “We brought Kim Lockhart on board as a writer, and then another writer, Anthony Smith, got interested, and he’s developing his own web series right now and I will produce it for him,” said West

West wanted to provide himself and others an outlet for getting work on their resumes (even when they do not get cast in main stage shows), and for putting work out for public consumption that isn’t just academic.  

And he’s succeeding.  The series currently stars student actors Shanna Dana, James Wagner, Benjamin J. Fairfield , Max Curnow, and Sam West, with other students from the department serving as extras.  English Department Head Peter Parolin has recently been introduced as a character, and in future episodes Jason Neidbalski will be brought on board. West and Hockenberry direct, film, and edit the show, and Sarah Varca is the costume designer.  

 “I really feel like this whole world of self-promotion that is starting to happen because of social media is the perfect grounds for us to showcase our talents and get our work out there,” said West.

 “It’s a testament to the department that we don’t just have a bunch of people who are floating through, but who really want to do this work, and are going to make it happen,” he added.

As for the future, West has obtained an LLC for Diorama Productions, making it a legal entity in the hopes of producing more and bigger projects.  Five episodes of “Besties” are already in the can, with a sixth currently in production.

Next up for West and Co. is a series of Zombie short films, which are still in the conception and writing stage. 

West is also hankering to do “something like the old Batman TV show, something really campy and fun, but it takes money.”  He already may have backers for that project, and, if so, plans to get the project up and running this coming summer.

Besties, Ep. 3, 'Aesthetic"

Episode 3 of Besties, a webseries about 3 friends and their neighbor.

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