From December 4 to 6, 2020, two student-directed plays will take the virtual stage for the first time at the Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies. This year’s Directors’ Showcase will present two outstanding productions: Constellations, written by Nick Payne and directed by fourth-year student Abby Esteireiro, and The Shape of a Girl, written by Joan MacLeod and directed by fourth-year student Sabrina Weinstein. With the current COVID-19 restrictions, directing these shows has been no easy feat. Being completely online has thrown curveballs to the directors, actors and instructor.
“One of the biggest challenges was adjusting to the new workflow and new styles of working,” said Abby. “When you’re used to in-person rehearsals, tech weeks, and dress rehearsals, and then suddenly you’re thrown into two weeks of remote rehearsal and one and a half weeks of shooting.” Another challenge was having a three-hour period to get interesting images over Zoom and only two weeks to edit.
Constellations is about a quantum physicist, Marianne, and a beekeeper, Roland, falling in and out of love and loss across different multiverses. “Marianne is all about the big ideas of space, life and the universe, while Roland tends to get a bit bogged down in the details,” said Stephanie Zeit, the actor who plays Roland. “You get to see the characters re-live the same scenes over and over again with different parts of their world changing slightly each time.”
When asked if she had learned anything interesting about acting during the pandemic, Stephanie explained, “Working from home on Zoom for Constellations meant that Lauryn, who plays Marianne, and I had to operate all tech, follow instructions to arrange locations and work with the costume designer to sort through our own clothes. Acting really is just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to creating a show!”
The Shape of a Girl is a one-woman show following fifteen-year-old Braidie who becomes obsessed with the murder case of Reena Virk, but not for sympathy for the victim, but because she sees something in herself that resonates with the teenage killers. Actor Hannah Spracklin describes her character, “Throughout the play, we see Braidie re-live memories of her childhood that eventually push her to reach out for help, so the situation doesn’t escalate to the level of Reena Virk’s.”
For Hannah, acting during the pandemic had been incredibly challenging. “The thing I find myself missing the most is the connection and energy you get from being in the same space as your fellow actors. One thing I have learned from this is that there are ways to connect with your scene partner through a digital medium.” She further explains, “Instead of trying to fight the medium, we need to work with it and bring it into the world of our productions. That’s where the magic starts to happen.”
Instructor Baņuta Rubess agrees that directing and instructing virtually has been a learning curve, which has involved tripods, light rings, cameras, storybooks and editing concepts.
“Luckily, I was teamed up with amazing instructors: Janice Fraser and Snezana Pesic,” said Baņuta “We had to learn how to work Zoom and generate spontaneity, adventure, rigour and trust.”
For The Shape of a Girl, Baņuta was able to meet some of the team in-person while masked and at a distance but still working in the Playhouse. For Constellations, the entire process was digital, but Baņuta drew a lot of lessons that she was learning about digital theatre from teaching directing and acting online in other courses.
Having to instruct online means limited personal engagements with students. “The biggest losses are all the coincidental, passing-in-the-hallway sort of meetings and discussions that we would have if we were doing the shows in person,” said Baņuta.
Despite the unfortunate circumstances, Baņuta is excited that both shows will lead to discussions around the relationship between theatre and recorded performance.
“It’s exhilarating to see in Constellations how lessons around composition, lighting, and colour impact the cramped proscenium stage which is the square screen that Zoom offers us,” said Baņuta. “In Shape of a Girl, the solo performer navigates both an artificial environment—a theatre, and a site-specific one—a beach, and you join her in the seesaw between the blaze of the theatre lights and the whipping breeze.”
Although online theatre culture isn’t nearly the same as live theatre, Abby doesn’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing. While there are a lot of things that have become more difficult, if not impossible, being in a 2D space has allowed the directors to manipulate the shows in different ways they couldn’t before transforming theatre into something new.
To read more about the show and to reserve your ticket that will be available through video on demand via ShowTix4U.com December 4 to 6, 2020, visit: cdtps.utoronto.ca/events/2020-directors-showcase