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A Look at Drew University’s First Virtual Play

Despite obstacles, theatre & dance department steps onto virtual stage with Snapshot

September 2020 – The show must go on, even in a world of remote learning.

Despite a very different looking fall semester, the Drew University theatre & dance department is ensuring that their fall production of Snapshot reaches the stage, albeit a virtual one. Snapshot is a scene cycle by multiple award-winning playwrights inspired by the photograph “Mt. Rushmore” by Lee Friedlander. The production offers up a well-rounded lesson on the national memorial and American culture at large.

With a history of national recognition for the school’s productions, the current cast and crew has a lot to live up to, and a lot to overcome.

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Lee Friedlander's 1969 photo that inspired Snapshot.

We spoke to Alyssa Sileo C’22, the play’s dramaturg, and Liesl Eppes C’21, the play’s director, about the adventure of creating a virtual production.

The adventure of production

Eppes: This year hasn’t gone how I expected! But, necessity is the mother of invention, and so it goes with Snapshot and the Drew theatre crew.

Sileo: When the challenge of a virtual presentation came to light, we started to think about how this play does and doesn’t work online, and we embraced both elements. In an online setting, the connection with the audience is precarious, and that’s where we can bring out the theatrical themes we find most compelling. Through our Zoom screens during rehearsal and production, we’ll be bringing a little piece of where we are in the world to the play.

A different looking play and process

Eppes: When the curtains pull back, the audience will be watching something entirely new and unique to 2020. So much of this is new territory. We’re so excited to share some of this process on our Instagram.

Sileo: We’ll have to build actor connections from two people on two cameras, which is way different from the natural connection in a room; costumes and props will rely on what people have at home; we can get creative with lighting and audio and manipulate our angles and positions to make certain effects happen; and we may dive into technologies like screensharing and video production for some elements.

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Black and white photos, in honor of Friedlander's style, populate the production's Instagram feed.

About the play

Sileo: It’s a play with multiple authors, and in our particular production’s scene selection, 12 different voices will be represented. Inspired by a photograph of two tourists at Mount Rushmore, to me, the play is about how these three words—loss, commemoration and memory—are always actively working together in order to obscure or display the truth.

The bigger picture of history, theatre

Sileo: It’s my particular responsibility to reiterate what I’ve been able to learn from indigenous historians and activists through online media and education about the past, present, and future of the Black Hills, the story’s setting, and the Lakota nation. By focusing on their history—and America’s carving four American presidents’ heads into their sacred site, meant to be a nature sanctuary—and making it shareable through our Instagram account, the production aims to interrupt the typical American narrative.

Eppes: In the past few months we have use the necessity of our circumstance to rethink this performance, and the very idea of theatre itself. Can it reach a broader audience in this new world? How can artistic disciplines interact now that lines between film, theatre and other mediums are blurred? We’ve had the opportunity to ask ourselves some fundamental questions about the very nature of theatre in the 21st century. I can’t wait for the audience to see the results!

The production will be broadcasted on Friday, September 25, and Saturday, September 26. Follow the production on Instagram at @snapshotdrew2020 for the link!

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