The lights dim. There is a rustle beyond the stage, and the curtain comes up.
But the light that dims never returns during the rehearsal: it’s the sun, and it’s 5 p.m. a month away from the shortest day of the year. The rustle beyond the stage isn’t of an audience member whispering, it’s the trees in the bitter, fall-on-the-edge-of-winter wind. The curtain that rises is merely the flap of an outdoor tent in the middle of the front lawn.
Such is the reality for the Pointe Players during the pandemic: a first of its kind in the theatre group’s history. While hopes were originally set on performing the Fall Play in early November, drama teacher and director Meaghan Dunham said the group faces several significant setbacks in performing, including practicing articulation.
“We cannot perform with masks on,” Dunham said. “Absolutely cannot, will not– all of your nuance is on your face, and that nuance has been taken away. The performance will be live when it is safe to do so, and no sooner.”
The Pointe Players’ chosen piece this year is “A Simpler Time” by Jonathan Dorf, a series of ten-minute plays that follow three main characters as they venture back in time to find the “funny and familiar in every era,” according to the official overview. For stage manager Awmeo Azad ’21, the play’s message particularly resonates during the pandemic.
“The play is essentially a goofy collection of comedy shorts that details various periods throughout human history and showcase all of the ways that humans have failed throughout the years,” Azad said. “The suffering, misery and hopelessness we’re dealing with now are not new feelings. We’ve been experiencing it for thousands and thousands of years, and yet we’ve always managed to emerge on the other side.”
According to actress and costume/prop chair Campbelle Stencel ’21, a lack of access to costume rooms, both at South and at nearby Grosse Pointe Theatre, have made the outfitting process look very different than normal.
“My job as costume and prop chair is to help guide actors on what they want their costumes to look like for the performance,” Stencel said. “With COVID-19, I have to check if the idea is even a realistic possibility and leave it up to the individual to actually find or make the costume.”
Azad said the group is considering a variety of performance options, including performing live at a later date, running the show in front of Cleminson Hall, live-streaming it from the auditorium or recording it and sending it out.
“At this point, the focus isn’t necessarily on the rehearsal or performance space,” Azad said. “The important thing is to be flexible and open to what might end up happening.”
Dunham echoed this idea, emphasizing that an actor should be able to adapt and perform “pretty much anywhere.”
“We may not be on stage, but the students are flexible,” Dunham said. “As long as you know where your audience is and everything is blocked, you can run the show. These kids have rehearsed on the lawn, in the parking lot, under a tent and in the cafeteria. They can do it.”
Azad said it is important for the Pointe Players to keep up their traditional Fall Play in a pandemic because art is critical to human connection and storytelling, especially in a world where isolation is considered the new normal.
“Theatre and art are essential parts of who I am,” Azad said. “I think they’re essential parts of who everyone is– everyone loves stories, and everyone communicates through stories. They are deeply helpful as a method of dealing with our own grief and suffering.”