While many students submitted their written theses and capstones this week, and will continue to do so until May 6, those working on theater performance pieces—both in the theater department and outside it—continue to navigate the challenges of cancelled live performances, Zoom rehearsals, and the virtual world of theater.
In the Theater Department, seniors Gabe Brosius and Ella Larsen have worked on capstone performances. Brosius wrote and directed a piece entitled “message me sometime.” As a neuroscience & behavior and theater double major, Brosius’ capstone combines his academic interests by telling the stories of queer men with schizophrenia or schizotypal disorder. Although the play’s three stories don’t overlap in plot, they focus on themes of mental health and queerness and the acceptance of one, both, or neither.
Since Brosius already planned to do a staged reading for his final performance, he noted that the rehearsal process—working with actors Pryor Krugman ’20, Will Wallentine ’23, Ben Weiman, and Milton Espinoza Jr. ’22—hasn’t changed much in the transition to online rehearsals. While Brosius continued to work on his script after the campus closure, the team did heavy character work and read through Brosius’ revisions in preparation for the final reading. Their Zoom staged reading has its own viewing party April 24 at 7 p.m. EDT. However, this viewing party isn’t a live performance. Brosius and his team already recorded the reading, and Brosius has edited the video for future watching.
Although Brosius’ capstone is completed, he hopes it will have a life beyond Zoom and Wesleyan.
“I plan to share it with various theaters, and hopefully when they open back up, they will want to bring ‘message me sometime’ to their local audiences,” Brosius wrote in a message to The Argus.
Larsen, who is currently working on her Theater capstone, also hopes her project will have a life outside of Wesleyan. Her capstone is a one-woman show titled “…An Ode.” The show is based on interviews Larsen conducted with women about their periods and menopause.
“It’s trying to talk about the silence surrounding those two subjects, especially menopause, and trying to peel back layers of stigma,” Larsen said. “One of the reasons people don’t know about this is because mothers don’t talk to mothers, sisters don’t talk to sisters, friends don’t talk to friends. Everyone is left feeling super isolated in their own experience…. I was trying to inspire conversation between the women I interviewed by making these texts that are in dialogue with one another, but I wanted to inspire conversation between myself and the audience.”
A large part of Larsen’s performance piece was this dialogue between herself and the audience. Before leaving campus, Larsen spent weeks developing skills and techniques that involve audience members and learning how to begin a call-and-response type relationship with them. Now that her final performance will be recorded for the screen with no audience, she’s had to adapt her capstone for the new medium.
“Right now it’s the ‘adapted for screen version,’” Larsen said. “It’s the backstage pass, and I make that clear in the recorded version. This is not what it’s supposed to be, but it’s what it is right now. Maybe later, some day, whoever’s watching this, will get to see it in person.”
Larsen has always wanted the piece to have a life outside of Wesleyan; she applied to The Hollywood Fringe Festival before the COVID-19 outbreak, and her piece was accepted.
“I was viewing Wesleyan as…you know, senior year, you have all these resources, really amazing professors, literal space,” Larsen said. “I was thinking: I want to make shows in my life, and while I have these resources I might as well take advantage of them. I wanted to have this as a jumping off point…. While I’m really deeply bummed I can’t do this at school, I still am holding dear the idea that I’ll be doing it live, in a real space, at some point in my life.”
Even though the screen version changes a fundamental aspect of Larsen’s performance, the solo nature of her show has proved beneficial in a time when everyone is isolated.
“Something that attracted me to the one-woman show is that you’re relying on yourself,” Larsen said. “I’m writing, directing, and performing. My tech is very minimal. In theory, my body is the lights because my body’s telling the audience where to look. You don’t need a lighting designer for that. I’m trying to make these concepts and conversations accessible to anybody. I want that package to be able to be easily picked up and moved. I want it to be within myself rather than relying on other people and places to properly deliver that message.”
Maggie Rothberg ’20, who is currently working on a performance thesis for the Classics Department, has found herself on the opposite end of the spectrum: trying to adapt a production that once included a 16-person cast and 18-person design team.
Rothberg’s thesis is a translation of Aristophanes’s “Assemblywomen.” While the play has been translated many times before, these translations are usually for academic purposes; Rothberg hoped to create a translation specifically for performance.
Before gathering her team, Rothberg spent time translating the work by herself, looking at the original Greek, other English translations, and critical commentary. She first created a skeleton of the work, and with the help of the cast, she would fill in the gaps and continue adapting the text for performance alongside them.
“Assemblywomen” was a highly collaborative project on campus, combining text with movement and music to create an original translation and adaptation. Because the project is based on ancient Greek text, Rothberg also taught a student forum for everyone involved in the project. Students meet weekly to both develop the performance and discuss historical research. Since the closure of campus, Rothberg and the team have faced many obstacles in not only continuing with the process, but also imagining what that new process should look like. Quickly after the COVID-19 outbreak, Rothberg realized “Assemblywomen” could not have the same life it would have on campus, even virtually.
“It’s [been] a challenge because so many people are involved and people are now sort of far flown to different time zones, their schedules have changed, and everyone’s lives have just changed immensely,” Rothberg said. “It became pretty clear to me early on that we were not going to be able to proceed with things ‘business as usual’ but on Zoom. It didn’t make sense to work toward a full-length, virtual performance.”
Instead, Rothberg reached out to her team to see what form they thought the project should take now.
“We’re trying to open up the process and try to create more options for what engagement with the project looks like. We’re meeting regularly still, as a group, but outside of those meetings we have some independent and small group work going. It’s trying to sort of archive and record the work we’d done so far on the play…and doing some other creative responses.”
Some students have worked to compile audio, video, and photo recordings of rehearsals, while others have gone in totally new directions. One group hopes to create a zine based on the project’s themes. Rothberg has also spoken with her designers to discuss what their roles can look like in a virtual world. Her set designer, Matthew Cross ’23 hopes to Zoom with actors to see where they live and help choose the environment they’ll shoot in. Her lighting and costume designers, Elam Grekin ’22 and Allie Godwin ’23 respectively, may do the same, trying to figure out how to use resources the actors already have to help set the scene.
Even though Rothberg and her team are working to continue the project as best they can, its new form is drastically different from what Rothberg had hoped for during her time at Wesleyan.
“I’ve had moments of feeling like this [situation] has done so much damage to the core values of the play,” she said. “It’s really about assembly, which is not something we can do right now. It’s been strange to think about what that means now. It’s also about revolution, which feels like right now is probably imminent if not already underway. This circumstance has cast the whole [show] in a new light. Right now the priority is keeping alive some semblance of the community we built. That was one of the most important parts of the project for me. It’s been really wonderful to see the people who want to keep working and want to meet every week. I think people are looking for outlets to be creative right now.”
Zoë Kaplan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.