by CARA CAVANAUGH '21
One of the staples of an SUA fall is its annual musical put together by the theater department, but how has this event changed due to the pandemic? Theater Director Ms. Hinkel discusses the recent changes as well as the upcoming pre-recorded performance Together We Raise our Voices that will be released later this month.
What is the general plot and composition/style of the theater performance? Also, is there a single thread that connects all of the acts?
Normally, in February or March we would select a full length, play or musical for the upcoming Fall that fits in with our larger theatrical vision for the year. Those titles are rented from a rights agency and are written and created by playwrights, composers and lyricists around the world. However, once it became clear this year would be super different we began to seek creative ways around doing a more traditional piece. This piece is what's called an devised piece which is very similar to a cabaret style performance. This means that it's been largely created by our production team instead of purchasing the rights to perform a pre-existing script like we do most years. So it consists of many, many songs, movement pieces, poems, monologues and scenes we selected and licensed individually (when necessary). We were inspired as this year is the "Year of the Woman" here at Saint Ursula and by the 100th anniversary of the passing of the 19th Amendment we decided to focus on females in the arts. Whether that's female performers, female characters, female artists, female dancers, or female composers. To ensure our message was as clear as possible Ms. Jennings and I collected three quotations to serve as anchor points for three "acts" of the showcase. The first is "Little girls with dreams become women with vision", "With brave wings she flies" and "My courage rises with every attempt to intimidate me." (Jane Austen). Each song, monologue, scene, poem or dance fits in with one of those quotes. All together the performances explore the female experience. In addition to performances some of our crew members have put together some portraits of female artists from all over the world to feature between segments.
Will performers be playing one singular role or multiple?
The performers are essentially performing a new character in each piece they participate in. They are listed in the program by their real names and then each time they appear on screen they have created a new character to go with the message of the piece.
How has the pre-recorded format changed the way that you approach directing and writing? How do you think it's affected the performers?
The creation of the script has been almost a living process where Ms. Jennings, Mr. Dice and I all sat down with a huge list of possible options and then narrowed down the final list based on the performers we had, the three different quotations that would serve as inspiration, and the timeline and safety precautions. Directing for the camera is definitely different from directing for the stage but I have found that a good basis in theatrical acting usually plays well on camera. So we focused a lot on character development, having a real clear point of view for why the character was saying these words and what emotions should match. The learning curve for the performers are mainly some technical things to get used to. Things like, you use your facial expressions differently in camera acting than stage acting; expressions need to be larger on stage and more subtle on camera, how to hit a mark and how to stage in frame, things like that. The girls have done an incredible job delivering beautiful performances. One thing I think we all miss the immediate feedback and energy of the live audience.
How can one acquire the pre-recorded performance?
We are just about ready to push out the login info to students and our larger SUA Community. There will be an RSVP form for interested people to sign up, so we know who is interested and who to send the link to. It will be free to access once we get your contact information, however we are happily accepting donations as we were unable to sell tickets for this production like we would a full length play or musical. For anyone who wants to donate, those donations will be collected when you fill out the RSVP form. It will be a limited access release, so we encourage audiences to watch the production as soon as the link is sent to them. We're aiming to have things ready for release the week of Thanksgiving and it will expire just before Christmas break.
How has the pandemic affected the performance and how have you had to adjust?
The pandemic has definitely impacted our performance. Having to shift to using camera equipment and spending multiple weeks editing instead of rehearsing is very different for us. This is usually the time we are spending more and longer hours together as all the elements of a stage show come together. Instead, some girls are completely finished and the piece won't be complete for another 12 days or so. It's really an emotional adjustment to a new process. Theatre is very emotionally and feelings based. It’s all about the energy a particular cast and crew creates together, the live interaction with the audience, the live music and technical effects, that's a magic feeling. So working to make this feel like a different kind of magical feeling has been an adjustment but we've all picked up some new skills we didn't have before!
Finally, what about the performance are you most excited for?
I am most excited for audiences to see how incredibly talented these girls are. Whether you're impressed by the acting range of a performer, the hair, make-up and clothing styling in each piece, the artistic touches, the camera work, the audio quality, the vocal range of a performer or just the emotional depth of the pieces, those are all things the students did. Mr. Dice, Ms. Jennings and I coached a lot, but the actual doing of it shines a light on so many students' talents. It's truly a representation of all the amazing talents we have here at Saint Ursula in the performing arts!