In her sophomore year, now junior Laney Lynch was sitting in an acting class when she got the idea to write “Cardboard Boxes.” Lynch said the class was going over Anton Chekhov, a 19th century Russian playwright whose work included Elon University’s 2022 spring play “The Cherry Orchard.”
“In my head, I was thinking, ‘I really wish I could hear real people talk how I talk,’” Lynch said. “So, while simultaneously listening to Chekhov, I was writing Gen Z dialogue.”
After filling almost 20 pages of her acting class notebook with lines of dialogue, Lynch said she realized she wanted to turn the snippets of conversations she was writing into a full play, “Cardboard Boxes.”
“Cardboard Boxes” is a contemporary play that follows a group of college students learning how to be true to themselves. Lynch said this theme stemmed from wanting to explore the nuances of being LGBTQ+ in college.
“How do I describe the nuance of not knowing who's gay and who's not?” Lynch said. “Some people are out. Some people have been out. Some people are recently on the journey of self discovery and acceptance, and I was like, ‘How do I negotiate that in a plot?’”
Despite having written the play, Lynch is spending the semester abroad and was not involved in the production and didn’t attend the show. She said she knew her play was in good hands with NewWorks — the student organization that produced “Cardboard Boxes” — and director Aniya Arnold, a junior who Lynch said she fully trusted with her vision.
Lynch said she wanted the play to convey the “temporariness of safe moments and of the things that make you happy” and show the strength of creating support systems.
“Memories are the things that last, even though memory is faulty,” Lynch said. “I wanted it to feel nostalgic, but also feel really present in our generation.”
Throughout the show, the characters reflect on their favorite movies, such as “When Harry Met Sally…” and “The Parent Trap,” but also reflect on their favorite memories and how the collection of scenes from their childhood formed who they are today.
Freshman Amelia Brinson learned about NewWorks at the fall organization fair and participated in their 24-hour play festival earlier in the semester. She said when she heard about auditions for the student-written, directed and produced play, she knew she wanted to be a part of it.
Brinson said while working on the production, she found her own version of the community and support system that the characters in “Cardboard Boxes” find.
“It's genuinely, probably one of my favorite productions I've been in, so it's a really fun first year of college thing,” Brinson said. “This has been such a great, positive first experience.”
Brinson plays Aji, an out-and-proud lesbian who is picked on by members of the football team and trying to find comfort in her friends and favorite films.
As an LGBTQ+ student herself, Brinson said it was important to her to be part of the representation she wants to see in other productions.
“I feel like there's this thing where all big queer media has this idea of like, it has to be really gritty and dark and sad and showcase all the horrible, horrible things,” Brinson said. “This show it's really fun and silly and you get to see queer kids being queer, being fun and silly and having a great time. There are some aspects of it that are touching and heartfelt, but at the same time, it's really just fun and exciting to see.”
Lynch said she wants to push back on the idea of typecasting actors and stereotypical representation. She said one of her main motivations when writing the play was wanting the audience, the cast, her friends and herself to feel seen in the characters.
“I can write my own parts if there's no parts for me,” Lynch said. “Every human being has the option to be more than just a cliche and stereotype.”
Lynch said after her first draft, she kept rewriting the character of Jeremy because he didn’t feel “real” enough. Jeremy is a football player and amateur cinephile grappling with all of the changes in his life.
Freshman Graham Bogess, who played Jeremy in NewWorks’ production said that one of his favorite things about the role was how relatable the character was.
“Jeremy is just a dude. You could walk by him every day,” Boggess said. “We all know a Jeremy.”
Boggess said he hopes audience members were able to connect with Jeremy’s journey, who through the course of the show finds a welcoming support system and learns to accept himself.
“It’s goofy, but then there's also an emotional core to it,” Boggess said. “It's about fitting in and being yourself and not compromising who you are for the sake of others.”
In the show, Aji tells Jeremy, “fitting in at the expense of yourself is only going to end up hurting you.” Lych said the message she wants the audience to take away from “Cardboard Boxes” is one she found herself while writing on it.
“I am valid and my confusion is valid and my journey — whatever it may be — as long as I am truthful in myself, that is valid,” Lynch said.