Dedicated thespians keep theatre thriving

Sacred+Heart+Greenwich+alumnae+Ms.+Zada+Brown+%E2%80%9820+and+Ms.+Isabella+Quinson+%2720+took+part+in+their+respective+college%27s+fall+play+this+semester

Charlotte Burchetta '22

Sacred Heart Greenwich alumnae Ms. Zada Brown ‘20 and Ms. Isabella Quinson ’20 took part in their respective college’s fall play this semester

Theatre departments in schools and organizations across the United States are working through continued social distancing challenges.  From the stage and screen to behind the scenes, Sacred Heart Greenwich alumnae Ms. Zada Brown ‘20, Ms. Isabella Quinson ‘20, and Ms. Daisy Steinthal ’19 continue to engage in productions at the collegiate level through Zoom.  Similarly, Maggie Polistina, a junior at Greenwich High School (GHS), participates in GHS’s theatre program.  Above all, actors, technicians, directors, and theatre enthusiasts are using the resources available to create and collaborate to build unparalleled productions and keep theatre alive. 

The cast of Dominion rehearse over Zoom this fall.  Courtesy of Ms. Zada Brown ’20

Ms. Brown, a freshman at Yale University and a member of Dramat, Yale’s dramatic organization, participated as an actress in Dramat’s fall play during her first semester.  This fall, each show at Yale University took place live and over Zoom, and members of the productions could not use the theatre facilities in person.  Yet, lighting, set, costume, and sound designers adapted their positions to help cast members prepare their individual atmosphere and laptop settings. 

Yale student Mx. Catherine Alam-Nist ‘23 wrote and directed the Dramat’s Fall Play titled Dominion.  They adapted William Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida into near-future city-wide confinement as a result of a war between the Trojans and the Greeks.  Menelaus, the Greek king, declared he began the war to reclaim his wife, Helen, back from Paris, the prince of Troy.  In Mx. Alam-Nist’s conversion, Paris is a woman, which obscures the relationship between Helen, Paris, and Menelaus in a broader social context.  The larger theme of the play centered around the women in the show, highlighting their struggle for autonomy in relationships and in society.  The women, whether the struggle was a difference of class, wealth, or sexuality, shared the goal of power.  Ultimately, however, they inevitably had to settle for safety and did not receive their desired power. 

Ms. Brown, who played the role of Helen, felt that even over Zoom, the overarching threat of war loomed in every character’s arc and plot line, and was not lost in the technology.  She related the idea of brutality and fear in the plot of the show to highlight the delicacy of life. 

“This idea of ever-present violence and war reminded characters of how fragile life is, and how even the people and things you hold most dear can disappear as ‘smoke between our fingers,'” Ms. Brown said.  “I felt that it was a very fitting theme as we are living through a global pandemic that changes our lives in different ways each day.”

Through Zoom, it was difficult to communicate emotions on a screen rather than on stage, allowing for maturity in physicality and emotional grasp, according to Ms. Brown.  Nevertheless, she considers herself fortunate to have experienced theatre at all this semester, and promotes Yale’s goal to bring joy through performing even through a screen.

“I felt so lucky to still do theatre during the pandemic and grow close to cast mates that I had never met in person,” Ms. Brown said.  “Conveying romantic chemistry was especially strange over Zoom, but I tried to focus on how I personally felt when connecting with my friends and family over Zoom and the physical longing for them that I would feel.  I really applaud Yale’s efforts to continue to put on shows during this time and give people something to look forward to and enjoy.”

Ms. Quinson, a freshman theatre major at Providence College performed in the fall play and will be a part of the spring musical Violet.  Actors and the production team rehearsed over Zoom and produced the play Echoes: Voice from the Void.  Providence’s theatre department’s theme for this season revolves around the Black Lives Matter movement and elevating Black voices.  The play incorporates three narratives from the public domain adapted into an original script.  Additionally, the production team invited the performers to write their own pieces to twist into the plot. 

Ms. Quinson recounts the experience as a positive start to her theatre career at Providence.  She feels pride over the shared project of molding a script into a production. 

“Despite the physical disconnect, it was an amazing introduction to the theatre community of Providence College,” Ms. Quinson said.  “It was a very collaborative experience as we built the show from the ground up together.”

Similar to Ms. Brown, Ms. Quinson believes she benefited as an actress and theatre creator from working on the show virtually.  Echoes: Voice from the Void required Ms. Quinson to solely use vocal acting, a method she had never used before.  Ms. Quinson learned how to relate emotions through her voice, without the assistance of physicality and facial expressions. 

Ms. Quinson feels that she gained a new sense of determination as an actress, igniting a unique way to connect to the show and its message.  She feels grateful for Providence’s efforts to continue their theatre department through the pandemic.

“As a whole, Providence’s theatre department has taught me a different type of perseverance as a performer,” Ms. Quinson said.   “All actors must be perseverant as most of the job is auditioning, but with Covid, actors are asked to completely change their method of connecting with their role, the show, and the audience.  Through the incredible hard work of Providence’s theatre department and its students, freshmen like me were able to see the beauty and strength of the PC theatre community as well as theatre as a whole.”

Maggie Polistina and Brooke Hadden perform in Greenwich High School’s fall production of Twelfth Night.  Courtesy of Maggie Polistina

Maggie has performed in all of the GHS plays and musicals since her freshman year of high school and is now taking steps towards directing.  This year, she performed in William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, as well as in improvisation shows and cabarets, all socially distanced outside.  The cast and crew of Twelfth Night put on the production outdoors and therefore had to learn how to adapt acting techniques to an open-air stage, setting, and weather conditions.  Actors performed outside and removed their masks only during their scenes, leaving them on when offstage.  Currently, the department is working on brainstorming ideas and original pieces for future productions. 

The GHS Theatre Arts Department had to adjust to outside live performances in the fall.  Maggie recognizes the challenges of trying to connect with an audience and also follow social distancing rules, but feels that the hurdles were beneficial.

“In our improv shows, there is always a lot of interaction with the audience,” Maggie said.  “This was different this year because we had to learn how to do so in an outdoor space where we were farther away from audience members.  We were able to figure out how to function in this new environment, and it enabled us to have fun and great shows.  Though it was very different, it was a really exciting experience, and we all learned a lot from it.”

Above all, Maggie appreciates the GHS theatre community coming together to create shows and performances.  She observes that even with different circumstances, the department has worked together to challenge limits and bring purpose to each performance.

“The experience has shown us our creative capabilities as well as the different performance possibilities we have as a theater program,” Maggie said.  “It has been very cool watching my friends and classmates create new things and come up with new ideas.  Although this year has definitely been different, it has been incredibly inspiring, and I’m excited to see what else we come up with.”

Ms. Steinthal currently attends Georgetown University and has worked on shows through the Mask and Bauble Dramatic Society (M&B) since her freshman fall.  M&B is “the oldest continuously running student theatre troupe in the country” dedicated to producing a variety of theatrical works and creating a community of student mentorship, according to maskandbauble.org.  Ms. Steinthal predominantly acts in production roles.  For example, she was the assistant producer of M&B’s 2019 fall play JB: A Play in Verse by Mr. Archibald MacLeish and the lead producer of the annual holiday production of A Christmas Carol, originally by Mr. Charles Dickens.  Recently, Ms. Steinthal was the lead producer of the 35th Annual Donn B. Murphy One-Act Festival of student written work (DBMOAF). 

Each spring, M&B entertains a playwriting competition, in which three selected finalists win prize money, in addition to M&B workshopping and performing their original plays. 

The director of Ponderosa, Ms. Jenni Loo, created a storyboard to map out blocking for the annual DBMOAF.  Courtesy of Ms. Daisy Steinthal ’19

Last March, M&B chose Ms. Steinthal to produce the play Ponderosa, written by Georgetown undergraduate alumnus and current graduate student, for the DBMOAFHowever, just two weeks into the production, COVID-19 complicated the process.  Ms. Steinthal and her production team adapted the play to fit a virtual setting for the festival in which three groups perform Ponderosa.  Fortunately, the show is in the spring, leaving time to brainstorm creative ways that will engage and educate the actors, designers, and audience.  Ms. Steinthal plans to pre-record the show and have it stream over YouTube Live. 

Ms. Steinthal hopes to preserve live components of the festival as well, including hosting live talkbacks with the actors, directing staff, design team, and playwrights over Zoom.  Audience members will be able to ask questions about the creation and rehearsal process.  Ms. Steinthal feels that as a producer, the restrictions only improved her creativity and connection abilities with others. 

“As a producer, it has challenged me personally in my communication and leadership skills,” Ms. Steinthal said.  “I am very grateful for the leadership opportunity that DBMOAF has given me, but I will not underestimate how difficult it has been to lead a team split literally across the globe.  It has forced me to be patient, compassionate, and empathetic, but also to be firm in ensuring that we remain organized and that all of our deadlines and action items are completed without the incentive of tangible meetings or in-person interaction to motivate us.”

Featured Image by Charlotte Burchetta ’22