Devised Theatre by College of Charleston Students to Touch on Social and Cultural Challenges

CHARLESTON, S.C. – The College of Charleston’s Department of Theatre and Dance continues its season theme, THE SHOW MUST GO ON, online as spring semester kicks off this month. In Other Words: A Century’s Reflections, a devised piece of pandemic theatre, is an examination on a collection of themes from pandemics to Civil Rights, and even on the nature of theatre itself. Created by a company of seven students and utilizing text derived from first person accounts, it explores the possibilities for theatre in a Zoom world and for all of us in this time of challenge.

Director and faculty member Todd McNerney shares, “It has been a long and difficult year. COVID-19 has effectively shut down the live entertainment industry. Theatre in particular has been devastatingly impacted. However, like universities around the country our program has sought to find a variety of means to still create, to still inspire, and to still educate our students in the making of theatrical art. This performance and the process used to create it provided our students the opportunity to express some of their thoughts and feelings on their world, through the voices of real people from other challenging periods over the last century. The process led them to discover that even with difference, change, or progress there are far more aspects of our humanity which we share than separates us.”

NEW DATES – This production will now take place February 5th & 6th at 7:30pm each night.  Admission is free, but you must first register for a ticket.  Once you have completed the registration process a link will be sent for you to use.  If you previously registered for the production, you will need to register again for your new date.

Please click HERE to register for tickets.

Students Share Their Perspectives on the Unique Events of 2020 in Monologue Performance

2020 has been a difficult year for many people, and the impact of various issues has been felt especially by college students. The College of Charleston’s Department of Theatre and Dance has invited renowned actor, screenwriter, and film director Michael Smallwood to work with its students on writing and presenting monologues that share their observations and express their emotions on this unique year of challenges.

The entirety of the six-monologue performance, Our World: Student Voices of 2020, is conceptualized by the students as they learn various theatre processes. An alumnus of the department, Smallwood recounts, “Monologues are advantageous because they allow for individual ideas and thematic exploration.”

The students address a variety of topics that have weighed on all of us in 2020. One monologue highlights anxiety related to modern media — deciding which ones to trust. Another monologue focuses on the anxiety that a Black person faces and the staggering disenfranchisement of the Black community in the face of police brutality and murder. Tied to the stress of the pandemic and quarantine, students’ works also cover the pressures of the quarantine on families and the lack of national grieving over the 250,000+ lives lost to the virus. All the monologues carry themes of worry and fear, but also of hope, a return to “normal,” and social change.

Through this event, the audience is exposed to the student perspectives on uncertainty and how the events of 2020 have shaped who they are today — and who they might be tomorrow. The various monologues have different goals and intentions, and when asked about what he hopes the takeaway will be, Smallwood replied, “I hope the audience will see how talented and insightful our students are.”

Our World: Student Voices of 2020 will be streamed on December 4 and 5 at 7:30pm. Audience members are encouraged to ask students questions about their experiences at talkbacks following both performance nights. (The Dec. 4 event will be captioned for hearing-impaired audience members and will have an ASL interpreter at the talkback.) Admission is $8 adults, seniors, military / $5 College of Charleston students, faculty, staff / $18 groups of 3 or more. Show and ticket information is available at showtix4u.com/events/cofcstages, by emailing cofcstages@cofc.edu, or by calling (843) 953-6306.  

Michael Smallwood:

College of Charleston alumnus, Michael Smallwood ‘09 is an actor, writer, director, and teacher. While at the College of Charleston, Smallwood studied theatre, acting, and writing, and he won two playwriting awards from the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival. He is a core ensemble member of Charleston’s Pure Theatre company. His film credits include the Emmy-winning CBS series The Inspectors, the Netflix original movie Naked, and the upcoming Halloween Kills. Smallwood recently won the best screenplay award at the Big Apple Film Festival in New York City. 

Theatre Student Interns at Elite Summer Program

Q & A with Victoria Leatherman

The summer of 2020 brought exciting new experiences for Victoria Leatherman, a senior Theatre major with a concentration in Scenic and Lighting Design, as she was chosen as a Stage Management Intern for the elite summer program at Stagedoor Manor. During our interview, the Columbia, SC native goes in depth about how she was able to work with a program that has famous alumni such as Robert Downey Jr. and Lea Michele. She also shares how she and her colleagues adjusted to an online platform with the Covid-19 pandemic.

What is Stagedoor Manor?

Stagedoor Manor is a theatre training camp for students ages 10-18, located in Upstate New York. Every summer the kids participate in three-week sessions where they take classes, live in residence halls and are cast in the shows. Each session sees the rehearsal of a different show which culminates in two performances. 

How were you selected for your internship?

I went to the job fair at the Southeastern Theatre Conference this past February. This fair is an incredible opportunity for those looking for jobs or internships in the theatre industry. You can go from booth to booth speaking to the different companies about their potential jobs. One reason I chose Stagedoor Manor is because their line was long, so I figured that meant they were a great company to work for. They called me back after a few days and offered me the internship.

What was a typical day like working at Stagedoor?

Due to Covid-19 it was all online and Zoom. This was exciting, as I was able to interact with students and teachers from all over the world. I had a student from Indonesia, and I worked with a teacher from Australia and a stage manager from Amsterdam. It was crazy! Everyday we would log into Zoom and each host classes from 12 noon to 5pm with a short break in the middle. In the evenings, we had rehearsal for our show from 5 to 8pm. At night the camp would have recreation time such as game nights, movie nights or talent shows. 

What was your favorite aspect of the job?

I really liked the opportunity of working with people from all over the world. Even though we were online it still felt like we were a family. We knew we would face some challenges being fully online, but the atmosphere that was created was wonderful.

Who are some famous alumni at Stagedoor?

There are so many that I don’t know where to start. Some alumni that come to mind are Robert Downey Jr., Lea Michele, Zach Braff, Ansel Elgort, Skylar Astin, Natalie Portman, Jon Cryer and Mandy Moore. Many of the famous alumni end up sending their own kids. One of my fellow counselors had a kid who was ten years old and rolled up in a limousine by herself!

What shows did you all perform while you were there?

Each stage manager did three shows. We didn’t do any musicals, because it would be too difficult due to Covid and being online. Instead we did small-scale plays titled Dead Man’s Cell Phone, Neighborhood 3, Requisition of Doom and Lovesick. We called the performances  “Zoomformances” where we had sound cues and virtual backgrounds for each character. The kids designed the lighting and costumes themselves.

How will your experience at Stagedoor help you both during and after college?

Since everything was virtual, it forced me to be more comfortable depending on technology (I was not a fan of using technology on shows before this summer.) With the uncertainty of what theatre will be, this was very helpful. I’m currently working on a virtual Monologue Showcase for the Department of Theatre and Dance, so I’m getting to share what I’ve learned with the department through that showcase. 

It’s also really helped me learn how to network which is essential outside of school. Since this was my first professional gig as a stage manager, it was so important that I receive good references and build good relationships to use later on in my career.

‘How the Vote Was Won’ to Open Season on Oct 1 and 2

The government has said that women do not need votes as they are all looked after by men…how ridiculous! It’s London, it’s 1918, there’s a dangerous flu spreading, and the country is emerging from a long, difficult war. It’s the perfect time for women to agitate for the vote!

Join the College of Charleston’s Department of Theatre and Dance on October 1 and 2 as it celebrates women’s voting rights in its season opener, “How The Vote Was Won,” a one-act farce by feminists/suffragettes Cicely Hamilton and Christopher St John. The show is a timely reminder of the challenges faced by women in the struggle for equal voting rights and the importance of every vote counting during the 2020 election and every election.

Presented with comedic jabs and sharp wit, the play is an entertaining and family-friendly livestream experience.  The production team has been very clever about incorporating facemasks and social distancing into the performance, as seen in this news story/video about the show.

DETAILS: Livestream performance is on Oct. 1 and 2, 2020 at 7:30 p.m. Admission is $8 adults, seniors, military / $5 CofC students, faculty, staff and 18 & under / $18 groups of 3+. Show and ticket information is available at showtix4u.com/events/cofcstages, by emailing cofcstages@cofc.edu, or by calling (843) 953-6306.

After parliament states that women don’t need a political voice because they are all looked after by men, the women leave their jobs and homes and instead insist upon support from their nearest male relatives. Hilarity ensues until the overwhelmed males band together to demand votes for women.

A founding member of the Women Writers’ Suffrage League, Hamilton wrote the story as a satirical pamphlet published by the League in 1908. The pamphlet was an enormous success and prompted her to combine forces with St John to turn it into a play. Since its debut on April 13, 1909 at the Royalty Theater in London, it has become one of the most well-known suffrage plays ever written.

“How the Vote Was Won” is directed by department faculty member Susan Kattwinkel. She notes, “This play is a delightful short farce, and we’ve found it to be a great play to experiment with all our new performance demands, like streaming and social distancing and masks. We decided that instead of trying to work around those changes we’d make them a part of the show. We’ve placed the action of the show in London in 1918. That’s the year that some women won the right to vote in Britain, and it’s also the year of the flu pandemic. So, it’s not only the actors who are wearing masks and social distancing, it’s also the characters. That gave us the opportunity to find all sorts of humorous ways to play with props and movement. We think the result is a fun romp and we hope you’ll join us for our experiment.”’

Theatre students comprise the cast and crew, and the show’s designers include students Julia Mimó (scenic design), Mattie Davis (costume design), and Nora Zich (lighting design).

Enjoy a behind-the-scenes look at our production through this student blog.

During this challenging time for the arts community the Department of Theatre and Dance continues its season theme, THE SHOW MUST GO ON, with fall productions: dance concert “dance deconstructed,” Sophocles’ “Antigone” adapted by Emily Mann, and student monologues “Our World: Student Voices on 2020.” Tentative production details are listed and updated at theatre.cofc.edu.

The Show Must Go On

Dear Department of Theatre and Dance Patrons,

 

Each summer we are excited to share our upcoming season schedule with you, but, as you know, this is not a typical summer, nor will we have a typical season. In place of a brochure of planned productions, we are giving you an insider’s update and asking for your support. 

 

Currently, our dedicated faculty and staff are recrafting classes and a production schedule that will allow flexibility, ensure the health and safety of our students and safeguard the hands-on, learning opportunities that are essential to our program. More importantly, we are actively focusing on diversity, equity, inclusion and access in all areas of our Department (details at theatre.cofc.edu). 

 

Student-centered, experiential learning is a hallmark of our Department and one we cannot sacrifice. We are acquiring new technology and the skills to use it so we can broadcast performances online in ways that do not violate production licenses. The current situation provides a real-life opportunity for our students to practice adaptability — a core skill taught in our programs.

 

We are navigating a complicated, unpredictable terrain, but, as the old saying goes, the show must go on. Through the end of December, if not longer, the show will go on without a live, in-person audience. This creates another puzzle to solve as our budget is funded in large part by season ticket subscriptions and individual ticket sales. 

 

To preserve the student experience, we are asking you to make a tax-deductible contribution in the amount that you would typically spend on tickets, season subscriptions and/or your usual donation. Your support will fund our set construction, lighting, sound, costumes, essential equipment for filming/recording/streaming performances, and more. It will keep our student shop assistants employed in our shops, where they learn invaluable skills to prepare them for their careers in the arts.

 

I write this with full knowledge of the difficult economic circumstances facing our country and many of our alumni and friends. I recognize and respect that not all may be in a position to help at this time, but if you are able to, I hope this letter offers you an easy way to directly impact our students.  

 

Our planning for the fall is still evolving, but we will get there – together – one step at a time, sharing an even tighter bond when we emerge on the other side. I am so grateful that you are a part of our arts community and look forward to the days when we can gather together again in the theatre in support of our students.  

 

Yours sincerely, 

Janine McCabe, Chair

Zooming Into the Future

Faculty Blog Post by Todd McNerney:

    

In this COVID-19 world where our traditional understanding and experiencing of Theatre is impossible, the faculty in the Department of Theatre and Dance are committed to trying to explore methods and means for creating “COVID-19 theatre”. Most people have seen some of the many YouTube videos of isolated artists (musicians, singers, dancers, etc.) creating and filming their portion of a larger work, which then by using video conferencing software was edited into a Brady Bunch-like set of individual frames.

 

Clearly, that is one way for performing artists to continue to present their work. But is it “theatre”?  What makes theatre a distinct form, not film or virtual? That is the question I have found myself most intrigued by as the months since March have ticked past. I have no prior experience with trying to perform or trying to direct a production through a platform like Zoom.  So, as we approach the Fall semester and the likelihood that our department will have to use methods other than our traditional ones to make theatre – I felt I needed to explore by not only watching some of the recorded productions – but in more direct ways.

 

In early July, I was fortunate to be invited to be an actor in Mill Mountain Theatre (Roanoke, VA) and Hollins University’s annual 24-hour play event “Overnight Sensations”. This production begins the Friday night before the performance when 6 playwrights are randomly paired with six directors, who are then randomly paired with six sets of actors creating a production team. Then the playwrights and directors randomly draw prompts for the creation of a 10-minute play. The prompts include things like genre (horror or memory play, for example), setting (two examples from this year were a baseball stadium or a candy store) a quote from another work – which must be worked into the dialogue (examples included quotes from individuals as diverse as Confucius to Steve Jobs and playwrights such as Eugene Ionesco).

 

After all of the elements have been determined, the playwrights depart and have approximately 12 hours to write an original 10-minute play. By 8 am Saturday the scripts must be shared with the directors. The directors and the playwrights then collaborate for an hour and a half making-revisions to the scripts. Then beginning at 10:30 am the actors begin rehearsing the work. At 5 pm technical rehearsals occur and then finally at 8 pm the plays are presented. This format has been used by Mill Mountain and Hollins for many years – the difference this year of course was that everything had to be done remotely. They chose to use the platform, Zoom. There is no need to discuss the various elements of rehearsal, etc. in a Zoom world, but certainly one of the advantages of this format was that the collaborators came from all over the country. My fellow actors included people that were in Virginia, New York City, South Carolina and Iowa.

 

I found the best part of this to be the fact that while the performance was free – it was still ticketed and it was not recorded – even when the producer’s own mother missed it due to a weather event which caused her to lose power – like a traditional theatrical event it was ephemeral. If you missed it, you missed it.  The second thing that was interesting – was that the typical interaction between actor and audience of course was absent – the audience which also came from around the country – could only react/respond in the “chat” window – but even with that limitation – you could “feel” their responses.

 

I look forward to exploring these challenges and elements in the upcoming Department of Theatre and Dance season.

 

Click HERE for a review of the performance.