With the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic, arts educators have had to follow different paths to train students in their future profession and to share the results with an audience.
At UNC School of the Arts, in the absence of live audiences, teamwork has made offerings of filmed productions possible.
Starting this week, the School of Drama will share works of contemporary playwrights through a livestream of recordings created on campus.
Contemporary Voices: A Virtual Theater Festival begins with livestreams of two prerecorded plays: Tim J. Lord’s “Down in the face of God” and Lynn Nottage’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Sweat” kick off the Festival. The festival will continue in June with another modern play.
Quin Gordon, who directed “Sweat” and is the director of recruitment for the School of Drama, said it is important for actors to perform work by contemporary writers.
“Creating this festival allows us to offer a more diverse set of theatrical voices for our diverse student body to inhabit,” Gordon said. “Our theatrical heritage is dominated by Eurocentric white male voices and, while we have not abandoned the classical canon, we must embrace a wide spectrum of contemporary voices in order to better serve our students and remain relevant.”
With support from the School of Design and Production, both plays were filmed live at Hanesbrands Theatre during the fall semester, using protocols adopted by professional theater organizations to perform safely during the pandemic.
‘Down in the Face of God’
Tim J. Lord’s play is described as “a post-apocalyptic mashup of Greek tragedies “The Bacchae” and “Antigone.” It is the first in a trilogy written by Lord, a native of the Midwest and a member of the disabled community.
A radical reimagining of the Oedipus story set in modern-day southern Illinois, “Down in the Face of God” calls into question identity, religion, familial obligation and what is home.
Director Cameron Knight, associate professor in the School of Drama, and the student actors worked directly with the playwright via Zoom.
“It’s always a great opportunity to work with the writer; it allows for the play to evolve and grow with the playwright making adjustments from what the actors offer,” Knight said. “The cast gets to dive into the story more: understanding the research, influences, goals of the story and its possible impact in the world today.”
The “Down in the Face of God” cast includes fourth-year actors Nicole Sollazzo (May), Amar Bains (Ham), Jane Cooper (Ana), Yasmin Pascall (Ora), and N’yomi Stewart (D). Third-year actors are Maleek Slade (Pen), Madison Kiernan (Ino), and Devlin Stark (Gavi).
Design and production participants include Houston Odum (scenic designer); Amanda Fisk (lighting designer); Dian Yu (sound designer); Johnna Presby (costume designer); Nathaniel Jones (wig and makeup designer); Jack Covits (props director); Kevin Douglass, Jr. (technical director); Keenan Van Name (production manager); and Kathleen Carragee (production stage manager).
Third-year drama student Maddy Brown is dramaturg. Kendall Best and Liam Mallett, School of Filmmaking students, are film editors.
Filled with warm humor and tremendous heart, Lynn Nottage’s “Sweat” expertly weaves a tale that endures with themes of economic disadvantage, despair and reconciliation.
Set in the Rust Belt town of Reading, Pa., in 2000 and 2008, the play follows a group of friends who have spent their lives sharing drinks, secrets and laughs while working together on the factory floor. But layoffs and picket lines leaves the friends pitted against each other, and racial tensions grow with the heart-wrenching fight to stay afloat.
“In this play, there are no heroes or villains,” director Gordon said. “Everyone is complicit in the breakdown of community when we only look out for ourselves.
“This is a true ensemble piece,” he added. “Every actor gets their moment/speech and no one part is any more or less important.”
The “Sweat” cast includes fourth-year actors Noa Beckham-Chasnoff as Tracey and Lawrence Davis as Evan; and third-year actors Jacob Moskovitz (Stan), Briana Middleton (Cynthia), Tess Riley (Jessie), Ishmael Gonzalez (Oscar), Chandler Bryant (Chris), Tyler Felix (Brucie), and Will Price (Jason). Second-year directing student Caroline Cearley is assistant director.
Design and Production students include Jessica Scott (scenic designer); Maggie Turoff (lighting designer); Kate Orr (sound designer); Olivia Alicandri (costume designer); Davis Campbell (wig and makeup designer); Anna Baldwin (properties director); Kevin Douglass, Jr. (technical director); Sarah Penland (production manager); and Jarrod Betts (production stage manager).
Samuel Bailey, School of Filmmaking student, is the film editor.