Over the course of this month, Masque and Gown, Bowdoin’s student theater group, will perform three virtual play readings. In the absence of access to on-campus spaces and equipment, the group has been innovating new ways to connect and bring out its members’ shared enthusiasm for performance.
“We’ve been trying to find a way to get people participating and interested in something [this semester] that is lower commitment,” Sinclaire Ledahl ’23, production manager of the readings, said in a Zoom interview with the Orient. “We settled on this concept of little readings.”
The plays take advantage of Zoom’s webinar platform to overcome the distance created by a remote semester. In the format of 20-40 minute productions, Masque and Gown hopes that these performances will be enjoyable, entertaining content for the Bowdoin community.
“It’s just a nice, short play [that is] fun to listen to and watch, just because there’s a bunch of funny quotes inside it,” Missy Demczak ’21, director of “Sure Thing,” said in a Zoom interview with the Orient. “It’s a good study break idea to come and watch it.”
Aiming to retain the authenticity of live theater, the group fine-tuned their creative process to showcase performative talent in brand-new ways, members participating from across three time zones and two continents.
“We’re finding a middle ground where [scripts] won’t be memorized [but will have] a bit of staging [and] sound effects, and it will be in webinar style, so you’ll only see the actors,” Ledahl said. “It will still be live theater in the sense that they are performing in real time. And that comes with all of the challenges that Zoom always has with things like lag, but also [with the] live reactions and experience of theater.”
Cast members and directors also shared some of the awkwardness and unorthodox challenges that arise from this platform, namely the absence of the traditional theatrical atmosphere.
“When you see yourself on camera, you see everything you’re doing [and] the faces you’re making; you’re much more aware of what you look like,” Sophia Adami-Sampson ’24, an actor in “A Game,” said in a Zoom interview with the Orient. “That can be both a good thing and a bad thing, because you can make those adjustments as you need to—but it also means it gets harder to get into the part sometimes because [being able to see] your face distracts you.”
Demczak said that in the absence of an audience, supportive cues are especially important in offering feedback to actors.
“Being on Zoom, the audience is you, basically; so I think it’s going to be a different mental state already for some of our actors and actresses because you don’t have the audience to feed off. That’s why us directors are supporting them and being like, ‘That looks pretty; that was awesome; keep it that way,’” said Demczak. “We’re laughing on the side of the screen, even though no one can hear.”
On the logistics side, the group also had to create new ways to audition, coordinate, brainstorm and put ideas into action.
“It was challenging to do my first [Zoom] audition,” Adami-Sampson said. “I didn’t know when to leave or what to say… [It was] strange, but at the same time it’s a lot faster. You can just opt in, audition and then you never have to leave your bedroom.”
As a transfer student, Adami-Sampson said that the production has enabled her to grow closer and more appreciative of the College community.
“Theater is always kind of a connector of people; it’s wonderful that it still can be even when we’re not allowed to be in the same rehearsal space,” Adami-Sampson said. “Ultimately, the benefit of participating as an actor in theater in general for me has been the relationships I can establish with my classmates and with other people involved…even if they’re in a micro-form this fall with these short play meetings.”
Masque and Gown hopes that these short virtual productions will help the group continue to foster a spirit of community and bring forward more engaging scripts and performances, no matter the geographical constraints.
“I’m optimistic about Masque and Gown’s ability to continue attracting new members, even despite the circumstances of this semester, as evidenced by the involvement of several first years on both the directorial and acting side of things for the script readings,” Emily Ha ’21, an actor in “Lifespan of a Fact,” wrote in an email to the Orient. “I think that there will always be a place for theatre in our lives, regardless of time and distance.”
Looking forward to more access to campus spaces and resources next semester, Ledahl reflected Ha’s sentiment.
“Theater is transient; it is something that exists in [a variety of mediums],” she said. “I think that carries, whether it’s on Zoom or live.”