BC senior Jacob Kelleher, director of "Proof,” which kicks off the new season. (Lee Pellegrini)
Student thespians will take to the Robsham Theater Arts Center stage for live performances this semester. But instead of playing to a full house, their audiences will be virtual.
Among the productions is the premiere of a play conceived last fall by 2014 alumna Maggie Kearnan, which she wrote specifically for performance during the pandemic. "Before last September, this play was not even a twinkle in her eye,” according its director, Professor of Theatre Scott T. Cummings.
“Building on the success of last semester’s productions—both artistically and in terms of safety—the Theatre Department is putting on four live productions this semester,” said Associate Professor of the Practice and Department Chair Luke Jorgensen.
Two are faculty-directed, including one by Jorgensen, and two are directed by students with faculty mentorship, he said. Though these student workshop plays are typically presented in the smaller Bonn Studio, “In order to give us maximum room for safety, all four will be presented live on the Robsham main stage, using COVID protocols of masking and physical distancing; all will have actors performing via a Zoom format,” Jorgensen said. Student workshops were suspended last semester, due to the pandemic.
“I feel very lucky that I am still able to create theater during the pandemic. For the last 10 months, theaters across the world have been forced to go dark as they await the end of this pandemic. I am so thankful that Boston College has allowed its students and faculty to continue creating art.”
Launching the spring season is “Proof,” by David Auburn, 2001 winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and Tony Award for Best Play. The passionate, intelligent story about fathers and daughters, the nature of genius, and the power of love, directed by senior Jacob Kelleher, runs from February 4–7.
“Having the opportunity to direct ‘Proof’ this semester has been one of the best parts of my senior year,” Kelleher said. “I feel honored that the Theatre Department has put its trust in me and allowed me to take ownership of this project and make the show my own. I feel very lucky that I am still able to create theater during the pandemic. For the last 10 months, theaters across the world have been forced to go dark as they await the end of this pandemic.
“I am so thankful that Boston College has allowed its students and faculty to continue creating art, and I couldn’t be more thankful that everyone involved in ‘Proof’ has gone above and beyond to create an engaging virtual theater experience that still maintains everyone’s safety,” he added.
Later in the month, Cummings will direct the debut of Kearnan’s play: “IDK [What This Is],” which centers on six friends who agree to participate in a social engineering experiment in the hope of making a difference in the world, but things do not go according to plan. It will run February 25–28.
The play “is interesting in that the director and designers are experimenting with the creation of multiple plexiglass safe spaces (boxes) that each actor can inhabit,” Jorgensen noted.
“Maggie is as talented an actor as she is a scene painter as she is a playwright,” according to Cummings, who noted that she pursued all of those interests as an BC theater major, and has continued to do so after graduation.
The production underscores the Theatre Department’s long commitment to the development and production of new plays, particularly by BC student playwrights past and present.
“It's part of our tradition,” Cummings explained. “Working with our former students after they have been out in the world a few years is gratifying for faculty and staff, and it helps current students imagine possibilities for themselves.”
Originally, Cummings’ plan for the 2020-21 season was to direct a play by Kearnan titled "Idawalley," about a famous female lighthouse keeper in the 1860s and ’70s. “When the pandemic stopped theater production dead in its tracks, neither Maggie or I were interested in adapting that play to Zoom. We decided she would write a brand new piece that could accommodate the limitations of moment.”
The second student workshop production, which runs March 25–28 and will be directed by senior Ally Lardner, is “The History of Colors” by Charly Evon Simpson. It focuses on a year in the life of Jolene, the oldest of four sisters, who takes the lead on fixing up a lakeside shack inherited by her and her sisters. It depicts the sisters and the shack, from Jolene’s perspective, in each season.
Edgar Lee Masters’ “Spoon River Anthology”—regarded as one of the most striking and original achievements in American poetry—concludes the season, and runs April 28–May 2.
It probes the social background of small-town living through a collection of short free-form poems spoken from a cemetery in the small fictional town of Spoon River, Illinois. The collection includes more than 200 characters, each providing their accounts of life. It is adapted, and will be directed, by Jorgensen.
“I have selected the monologues that let the rascals and criminals have their say, and they are not always apologetic,” he said. “Our version allows this reminiscence to be more revival than funeral, and focuses on some of the more scandalous residents of Spoon River. It will be presented in one act with live bluegrass music. I chose this play when the musical was no longer an option due to pandemic regulations, because the style of presentation—a collage of monologues—lends itself to safe distancing on stage.
“Though it may sound melancholy, and certainly there is at times a melancholic nature to the narratives, there is also a wry grin and a wink as our characters each tell us of their colorful lives,” Jorgensen added. “There is a historic sense to the production but also a modern zeitgeist as we remember all those who have passed—both in this pandemic and before—with warmth, fondness, and storytelling.”
Given the challenges presented by the pandemic to theatrical productions, Cummings praises Jorgensen as “a hero.” Shortly after assuming the position of Theatre Department chair, “he was faced with figuring out what kind of theater season, if any, we could have. So much of what we are doing this year is an effort to explore the possibilities of mediated performance. Luke has been a gentle but dogged advocate for the educational value of our production program.”
This semester’s theater productions are free, but a ticket is required from the RTAC Box Office to get the virtual program and link for each show. Tickets may be obtained in-person at the box office, by calling 617-552-4002, or through the RTAC ticket website.
Rosanne Pellegrini | University Communications | February 2021