It’s been several months in quarantine, and the days of live theatre performances feel long behind us. Yet the limitations imposed by the pandemic have inspired new, creative types of performances. Saturday, Sept. 12, this innovative storytelling took hold at the College of William and Mary with the APO New Scenes Festival, virtually hosted by Alpha Psi Omega. The event, which was live streamed on Facebook, featured six scenes written, directed and acted by students. Each scene touched on a different theme, but all were united by the unique medium of Zoom.
The first scene, “Tender Club,” written by Grace Helmick ’22 and Brielle Perry ’22 and directed by Kate Dooley ‘21, started off strong, highlighting the struggles of socially-distanced romance and the limitations of Zoom calls. The charming writing was accentuated by the Zoom format, and the scene writers leaned into the medium, using breakout rooms as a central feature of the piece.
The second scene, “Tryouts,” written by Christine Rosa ’21 and directed by Loni Wright ’21, featured an eccentric cast of characters in an “audition” format. Anyone who has done a virtual job interview or a cappella audition would relate to this scene, from both the interviewer’s and interviewee’s perspective. Its absurdist humor was a refreshing take on the monotonous tone of a typical Zoom meeting, and the multi-faceted acting by Alexandra Watkinson ‘23 highlighted the comedic elements of the script.
Where the first two scenes were short and snappy, the third scene, “Wa Wa Wa Whoops,” written by Aidan O’Halloran ’21 and Olivia Wilson ’21, and directed by Anthony Madalone ’21, was longer and packed full of laugh-out-loud humor and quotable moments. From the get-go, the scene accentuated Zoom faux pas, with Boomer character Cece, played by Katy Shinas ’22, crashing a meeting, sharing her screen and yelling into the microphone. The other two characters, played by Ciara Curtin ’24 and Peter Rizzo ’23, played off each other perfectly, leading to a hilarious combination of personalities. Anyone who watches this scene will come away with, “you can’t just ask a lady about her fertile crescent!” and “I’ve just been jilted by a college boy, who isn’t wearing pants. Again.” running through their heads. Between uproarious moments, there were pieces of genuine tenderness and poignancy, a much-appreciated commentary on online classes, social interactions during a pandemic and intergenerational disparities.
If “Wa Wa Wa Whoops” was a commentary on student behavior, the fourth scene of the festival, “The Email,” written by Aisling Ringrose ’24 and directed by Joseph Tapia ’21, was a clear critique of the College’s administration. Chronicling the trials and tribulations of drafting an email to the student body, the scene perfectly summed up the tense relationship between overzealous administrators and the students they are tasked to oversee. From the outset, the hard-nosed Dave, played by Aidan White ’23, delighted the audience with his bluntness and many references to Ronald Reagan. “Immunity clauses are how the terrorists win” is a phrase you won’t forget anytime soon. In a moment of serendipity, during this scene’s live broadcast on Facebook, the student body received an email from the administration, admonishing irresponsible student behavior under the COVID-19 guidelines. The email itself could easily have been crafted by Dave, and the similarities between the real administration and the in-scene personalities were striking. The email fit so perfectly with the scene that one can only wonder whether some wise-cracking administrator hit “send” while giggling over the live broadcast.
The fifth scene, “The Ritual,” written by Joshua Mutterperl ’24 and Erik Wells ’23 and directed by Rosa, took the awkwardness of Zoom meetings to the extreme, highlighting an attempt to run a cult virtually. The overzealous cult member, played by Barrett Fife ’23, underscored the absurdity of the scenario. The scene wasn’t so much laugh-out-loud funny as it was a darkly humorous take on the Zoom format, combining the occult with the ineptitude of the characters for a farcical quarantine romp.
The final scene, “Name TBD,” written by Kate Kowalski ’22 and Ellie Antestenis ’23 and directed by White, was the icing on the cake of the festival. While the previous scenes had occasionally used Zoom creatively, “Name TBD” did a fantastic job of organically incorporating Zoom elements into the piece. Especially interesting was the use of the chat feature, which was displayed onscreen while one character was muted. The usage of multiple Zoom features was as innovative as it was funny, and both the writers and the director obviously had an ingenious vision for the scene.
Though we may not be going to see actors on a stage anytime soon, anyone who watched the New Scenes Festival would come away satisfied that the thespians of 2020 are going strong. Through hilarious writing, poignant critiques, and unique uses of the Zoom medium, the festival showcased the best creativity of the College. Though many themes were universal, many of the scenes particularly spoke to the experience of students at the College and the struggles of life during a pandemic. As Cece from “Wa Wa Wa Whoops” would say: “These times are so… unprecedented.”
Editor’s Note: The Flat Hat would like to clarify that Aidan White ‘23 is a staff writer for the paper. His involvement with with the APO New Scenes Festival is not on behalf of the paper’s interests.