Once we knew our Fall 2020 Drama courses would be online, we knew our creative project would need to be quite different than presenting a play on the Roberson stage. My mind quickly went to the idea of a devised piece, one where the actors themselves create much of the story from scratch, and using a monologue structure seemed to be a great way to embrace our remote learning setup. I’m excited about this project because it’s allowed students to grow in multiple ways: playwriting, character creation, and voice acting. It’s also been surprisingly more collaborative than most theatre projects I’ve worked on in the past, due to the need for frequent online communication between roughly 25 artists. It’s been a fun challenge!
My background in theatre is mostly as an actor and as a playwright, so this particular project very much appealed to my artistic nature. A vast majority of my work in A Blast in Kranesville was in assisting students with character creation and editing/guiding their monologues. Also, as the Instructor of Record for our Practicum course, it was my job to connect various production areas (sound, video, costuming, acting, directing, and this lib guide!) in the most effective and collaborative ways possible. Additionally, I’m very thankful to have been involved as an actor, playing the role of Evan Barksdale, who serves to connect the audience to the people of Kranesville and their unique journeys.
What a ride! A Blast in Kranesville has ballooned into a much bigger project than I originally anticipated and with a lot more moving parts. When we, the faculty and staff, first started throwing around ideas for the semester, we faced one huge hurdle. Because of the state of the world right now, we would need to do a project online in some fashion. Whatever we came up with, at best, would only be "theatre-adjacent." Technically, for an actual act of theatre to take place one must have live actors performing in real-time for a live audience in the same location. This, of course, was not possible this semester. I think what we came up with was an interesting project that offered a host of unique challenges and opportunities.
Since the piece is completely devised, the students got a chance to create the stories of their characters. They got to world-build. Traditionally, an actor is a distinctly interpretive artist, but in this project, we asked the students to be instigators in the process, to be playwrights as well as actors.
Having the drama be an audio project demanded a different approach for both the students and the faculty. Communicating via email and video conferencing (both clunky and limiting ways to communicate compared to the speed and efficiency of being in-person) hugely affected everything, from scheduling to feedback. The students, however, benefitted from this opportunity to explore the outside edges of theatre production. The project was certainly different than what is usually put on stage in our traditional productions here at TCC. The students now have alternate tools in their creative toolkits.
I am very pleased to have been a part of the project and proud of what the students came up with. They really stepped up to this unique moment in their growth and education and showed themselves to be professional, flexible, and wonderfully imaginative.
As I write these notes, a recent New York Times article about the pandemic’s effect on the theatre profession runs through my mind. In the interview, Brett Anders, a stage manager at Playwrights Horizons, comments, “Theatre has survived civilizations and empires coming and going. So why would a pandemic stop us?” During the past few months, many theatres have found it necessary to adopt that attitude in order to survive. In that spirit, Theatre Southeast has adapted and created new ways to reach our community. Those who work in the theatre must be creative, innovative, open-minded, and determined. I believe our students have embraced all of these qualities while devising this performance.
This is the first audio podcast that our theatre program has developed as a major season production, and it has been an adventure. Did we face unforeseen challenges – of course! Was it worth it – absolutely! This project provides our students with an important lesson beyond basic performance skills. It illustrates the need for theatre artists to persist in the face of adversity and to use their craft to make sense of circumstances. As you listen to this podcast, you will realize that it is an allegory for our times. As playwrights, our students have been asked to consider what it means to live through unexpected events, and how unforeseen circumstances can take our lives in unanticipated directions. Perhaps as you listen, you will reflect along with us. We hope that you will enjoy streaming this performance as much as we enjoyed creating it!