Read Part 1 here!
Our work was cut out for us.
Our circumstances were no doubt stressful. In less than a month, we had to reinvent a full-scale production to fit a more intimate audience. We needed to write a new script and figure out our production designs pronto. The Theater and Performance Studies (TAPS) department, meanwhile, was figuring out limitations of theater in a COVID world with Yale’s Environmental Health and Safety department. We felt the implicit pressure riding on our production’s success: since March 2020, we would be the first curricular production to do a live performance on campus.
Still, despite all the challenges, we had quite some fun.
But through it all, there wasn’t a single day I didn’t leave our black box theater rejuvenated. I loved working on this production. Reinventing our production under the pressures of a ticking clock didn’t make us crack; it brought out the best in us. We honed in on our goals for this new version: something dynamic, surprising, and immersive that would honor our original play while subverting expectations. We wanted to break the fourth wall and constantly shift audience-actor relationships. We aimed for a production that was meta, camp, and joy. It was in this revision that our diverse backgrounds as theatermakers and scholars emerged as our production’s strength: I brought my love and knowledge of Peter Pan and playwriting; Ale brought their love and knowledge of music, specifically K-pop; Noelle brought her love and knowledge of postdramatic theater and the devising process.
Backstage in our costumes.
Every time I thought the script was “locked,” I quickly discovered that was not the case: things changed constantly, which is the nature of a devised production. What if…? became our motto as we threw out crazy ideas: what if we ended the show with a K-pop dance sequence? What if we “left” the theater entirely? What if we made the audience go outside? This production would be wackier than before, with numerous timely references from the worsening COVID-19 situation to a Zoom sequence to a #FreeBritney protest—in the middle of our show. We would interact with the audience in a way that has never been done at Yale, inviting them to get up out of their seats, tear up paper and throw it at the stage, and draw with chalk on the sidewalk outside the theater. We also had to get creative because of certain COVID restraints. For example, when we learned that masks need to be worn within 12 feet of the audience, we wrote masks into the show: a Brechtian moment in the middle of our play where we put on a mask as an intercom voice announces the arrival of the pandemic.
Masks became a part of our show.
Over the course of 4 shows, we invited audiences to contribute to our mural with words or images that they find healing.
This was taken on load-in day, where lighting crew sets up the plot!
I was on “ground crew” duty–moving this giant scaffolding around the theater as our lighting techs hung the lights.
While we figured out the numerous ideas we wanted to touch on, we also were figuring out the technical sides of theater. With support from the TAPS department, specifically our technical director and resident lighting designer faculty member Tom Delgado, we were exposed to all departments of theatre making, from sound to light to set to costumes. I would explain our production vision—from natural “forest” lighting to purple pop star lighting for the #FreeBritney sequence—and watch as Tom taught student lighting technicians how to program the light board. I learned how to hang heavyweight curtains, sandpaper and paint set pieces, and navigate the sound board and speaker system. Because we didn’t have a crew, we coded all of our lighting, projection, and sound cues into a powerpoint clicker and wrote the clicker itself into the show (a meta moment when Ale hits the clicker and we react, “wrong cue!”). Restrictions didn’t limit us, but rather inspired our creativity as we problem-solved our way through tech week.
On opening night, everything came together. I could only think of one word to describe what it felt like to be out of breath, taking our bows on stage as our intimate audience cheered us on: euphoric. My senior thesis is an experience I’ll never forget. How many people get to play-fight with pool noodles in Neverland for their thesis? All our hard work paid off when my thesis advisor rushed backstage to congratulate us, tears in her eyes. Audience members expressed how they took away the beauty of live theater, the importance of representation in our diverse identities, and the power of imagination. Tom sent us an email with his thoughts on PANDEMONIUM, writing “I will remember your project for the rest of my life. You changed me. You gave me joy and pride for you.” After reading that, I burst into tears. Though we didn’t actually fly in this production, in the words of J.M. Barrie, my heart will fly on wings, forever.
Grateful to everyone who made this production possible.
Our amazing lighting crew and Tom in blue!
Noelle, me and Ale at strike: the theater term for set deconstruction after closing night!
We’ll never forget this joy-filled production.
Photos courtesy of the devisers of PANDEMONIUM and Anisë Murseli as part of the Yale College Arts Photo Archive