Take One: Online One Acts and the Digitization of the Theater Department

The Northwest theater department, and its shows, are now online. Although both the One Acts and the Spring Comedy have aired, due to our digital age the performances are readily accessible. So much of the joy within live theater lies in watching both mistakes and successes in real time, the absence of this has presented a challenge to directors and actors alike. With this new format, audience members may watch innovative and interesting ways of keeping Northwest traditions alive in unprecedented circumstances.

The spring show, directed by Ellen Graham and written by Frank Garland, has been modified to be performed as a radio play. And if anyone was hoping for a synopsis: The spring show is a take on a film noir detective story with an inter-dimensional twist.

One of the highlights of the One Act Festival is when the theater department says goodbye to and honors their seniors. Each year, seniors, many of whom have been in the theater department for years, await this tribute. Ellen commented, “I think it’s really tough for the seniors. Those who were directing were hoping to have this thing people will come see. So, it took them awhile. We had to say “this is what we wanted. Right now, it sucks, let’s just name it. But what can we do instead?” For one, these in person speeches have been replaced by videos of gratitude. But what have the directors, both seniors and juniors, been doing to navigate and create their own plays online? Maureen P. 20’, Connor O. 20’, and Sophie R. 19’ gave insight into this, demonstrating just three of the many ways the one acts have been transformed.

Publishing Haus: What is your one act about? What made you choose this play?

MP: They Could’ve Lived is a one-act adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. I chose to create this play just with a desire to try something with Shakespeare; I took the original script and cut it down to a one act play focused on the choices the characters make. If even one person had done one thing different, could Romeo and Juliet have lived?

CO: I’m doing two classic skits done by the British comedy troupe Monty Python. I chose to do this as I love the comedic style of Monty Python, and felt that with the incredible amount of talent that the students of Play Production have, I could recreate the skits in a hilarious way.

SR: My play is called Impromptu and it’s by Tad Mosel. Four actors are suddenly called to a theatre by an omnipotent presence known as the Stage Manager and are told they cannot leave until they create a play of life. At its core, I believe it is about how we show ourselves. I chose this play because it’s well written and focuses on dynamics between individuals, something we were already working on in the Crucible. It’s a play that makes fun of actors and acting conventions and I thought we needed something lighthearted in the rather dark world we were living in. Seems like my premonition was even more correct than I first thought!

PH: How did you react to the change in formatting?

MP: I wasn’t sure what to do at first. I originally had many of my actors playing two roles and wasn’t sure what their (and my own) capacity would be to make the show digital.

SR: It was difficult at first coming to terms with the fact we wouldn’t have a physical show in the NWS Black Box, with all the spatial and personal benefits that come with such a location. However, directing has remained a bright spot for me throughout this whole quarantine process, so I wanted to keep that joy up as time went on, and we’ve kept things quite flexible final performance plan-wise, so we can adapt if necessary.

PH: What are your plans for your one act now and what adjustments have you had to make?

MP:  I finally decided to turn it into a monologue film. This means each actor will preform just one significant monologue. It gives the actors a chance to explore their characters through a very specific part of their journey in the show.

CO: Initially we were going to do the two Monty Python skits “Dead Parrot” and “Airplane Pilots.” My actors and I decided that these skits would not work very well in an online format. Instead, we found two other Monty Python skits that seemed like they could be converted fairly easily to be set in these strange and unprecedented times. These skits are called “Argument” and “The Society for Putting Things on top of Other Things.” We will be recording the skit using Microsoft Teams.

(Writer’s note: It is arguable that this play became even better online. If you would like a hearty laugh, the second one in particular is worth a watch.)

SR: Originally in mid-April, assuming quarantine would be over on May 4th, I planned to do the show as a film piece, now we’re moving to a radio play format using SoundTrap. I plan to add music and sound effects in post, so it has a bit more audio impact than just a dry recording!

PH: How have your actors adjusted to the new format?

MP: I couldn’t be prouder. Their monologues were beautifully performed, while it was tough to adjust, they did amazing.

CO: While they haven’t had access to some of the resources that we might have had at school such as a dialect coach to help them perfect their British accents, I’m impressed with how hard they have been working to perfect their performances. I am confident that we will have a great final product to display at the One Acts, and my actors are largely to thank for that

SR: They have been doing incredibly well. I’m consistently impressed with both their steady progress and firm determination. It’s a difficult time and I know many are lacking motivation, but they’re really giving this their all. I’ve been keeping a pretty strict memorization schedule and they’re doing well with that. I don’t think I could have asked for a better group to do this with!

PH: How has costuming/lighting and interactions with stagecraft changed due to remote learning?

MP: I didn’t have the ability to incorporate all of the stagecraft aspects that we would’ve had in school but my production team captain Eli S. (’19) has been working with me. He edited the film and has been helpful through this whole process.

SR: As my group is doing a radio play, costumes and lighting are a non-starter at this point. I’ve unfortunately haven’t been interacting with my crew much, but I’ve reached out and inquired if anyone would be interested in sketching costumes/sets so I can have some sort of visual element to display in tandem with written info about my show. It makes me the saddest of all of this situation that I’m not able to showcase the work of my crew!

PH: How are you feeling?

MP: I feel proud and excited mostly. It came with all sorts of new learning curves for us. This was my first time directing too, so the entire thing was a big experiment for me.

CO: I will be starting the recording process next week, and while there are a few things that will be challenging to navigate in this new format such as how to orchestrate entrances and exits, I am excited to start that process.

SR: Directing and creating my show has really been keeping me going, so I’m quite excited to see what our group’s end product will look like! I’m quite disappointed that I won’t have a chance to incorporate things like lighting, costuming, and set design in that product, but I think we’re doing as well as we possibly can. I’m cautiously optimistic, and while of course this isn’t ideal, I think that… maybe, just maybe, it will turn out alright.

If you’d like to see either Ellen’s spring show or the One Act plays to see how they fared the change in format (spoiler: they are still super funny) the links to them can be found here and here.

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