Creating change through performance … over Zoom

COVID-19 has presented a wide range of obstacles for the performing arts, from Broadway to New York Fashion Week to small-scale shows. Dana Hall has come up with a solution to have a fall play despite the novel coronavirus. 

This year’s play focuses on the progression of social justice through time. It will be presented in a three-episode online format that can be viewed beginning November 6. The set is a series of virtual backgrounds, such as the photograph here. For the first time in Dana Hall’s history, the play, which does not yet have a title, is written by the cast. 

Mr. Daniel Morris, Director of Theater at Dana Hall, was inspired by The Laramie Project, written by Moises Kaufman and the Tectonic Theater Project in 2000. Laramie is a production about the murder of Matthew Shepard that Dana Hall performed in the fall of 2018. 

Similarly to The Laramie Project, this new show is composed of interviews and reflections about this year’s major social justice-related events. There is a heavy focus on systemic racism and the Black Lives Matter movement, but the show explores social justice in many ways. Collaboration between the Middle and Upper School, according to Mr. Morris, helps widen the perspectives audience members will see on screen. 

Aluna Herrera ’22 is a writer, actor, and member of the Creating Character class at Dana Hall. She says writing this show is an opportunity “to be able to talk about these issues …  in a very open way.” Aluna has written scenes about a range of topics, from interviews about social justice to a personal monologue about her time doing calls for an organization that gives funds to undocumented immigrants. 

She is particularly looking forward to a piece she wrote about the controversies surrounding the Civil War. One monologue is from a teacher’s perspective from the North, and the other is of a teacher from the South. Both teachers give lectures about the Civil War, but their “facts” are very different from each other. “I’m excited to see it and how the audience reacts to it,” she said. “Writing that skit was a big learning moment for me.” 

Mr. Morris is collaborating with Ms. Rebecca Weitz, who is Dana Hall’s new Technical Theater Director, and Ms. Jazzmin Bonner from the Huntington Theater. The end goal is a roughly 90-minute production that will be written, filmed, and edited online. All students access rehearsals through Zoom, and most groups meet weekly to develop the show. 

Mr. Morris believes that theater is a way for students to express themselves and to have a way to process everything that is going on in their lives. “It felt irresponsible to do anything else at this point,” he said in a Zoom interview. “And logistically, we have room to adapt to a new world and a new format.” When asked if he would do this type of show had both COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter protests not happened, Mr. Morris said, “We might have found something new, but this felt very timely.” 

The challenges of performing online also present new opportunities, Mr. Morris says. Zoom allows students from all over the world to connect and present new perspectives, as every student has access to the platform. 

“After watching all three episodes, I hope that audiences are left with a sense of purpose and hopefulness that I see, especially in the girls that are submitting,” Mr. Morris said. “We’re going to be left with some clear things to do to create change.” Aluna also highly encourages people to tune in. “See it! Honestly, I feel like people are going to learn so much more about people in our community.” 

The first episode will air on November 6, and the following episodes can be accessed on November 13 and November 20, respectively.

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