(The cast of “The River of Forgetfulness” by Karen Hines, an original play in “The Stream You Step In” series by University Players Windsor in partnership with Outside The March. Photo above by Agatha Knelsen / Courtesy of University Players.)
In a time when theatre has been decimated by the COVID-19 pandemic, Canadian playwrights, directors, technical staff and University of Windsor acting students are re-defining drama by trailblazing a path onto an online world of digital performance.
The University of Windsor’s University Players (UP Windsor), in partnership with Toronto-based theatre company Outside the March, with funding through a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada grant, have empowered them to successfully open their 62nd season, in a virtual digital space, with an anthology of original plays entitled “The Stream You Step In.”
“The Stream You Step In,” includes four plays tailored specifically to graduating Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) Acting students (who collaborated with the playwrights on the scripts), the digital space they’re performing in, and each show reflects the historic events happening in today’s world including the pandemic and Black Lives Matters (BLM) demonstrations.
Some of the world’s greatest art comes during the most challenging times in human history and today’s pandemic is one of those times. Together playwrights, directors, technical staff, producers and actors are creating, spearheading, and forever changing this new “stream” of theatre that they are stepping into. Hence the name is a take on Ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus’ philosophy that a river, and person, change or are different every time they step into the river’s stream. Without doubt the pandemic has changed the stream of live theatre and the individuals who are thinking outside the box to take theatre online.
The first two plays in the series opened in a fast-paced double-bill earlier this month featuring “good white men” and “The River of Forgetfulness.”
“good white men” by playwright David Yee and directed by Sébastien Heins features 4th year BFA students Dustin Sedore, Gareth Finnegan, Jack Dewar and Dan Stanikowski. The students did a remarkable job in bringing the depth of their white male characters, the issue of “performative allyship,” and conflicts between them to life.
Three of these characters believe they and their social media posts are the reason BLM is finally gaining traction for the first time since its inception in 2015. One character disagrees and argues that white people are just reposting other white people’s posts about how to be better white people, and preaching to the already converted. Worse of all this takes away from the BLM movement, instead making it about the white people who are preaching “racial evangelism” to each other. He accuses them of feeling guilty for their “privilege” and starving for attention. Chaos ensues when tangible ways to help, that are not about self-importance, are suggested including amplifying the voices of black activists or actually organizing BLM marches.
The cast delivered intense twisted humour and sobering doses of reality, leaving the audience, especially white people, to contemplate whether or not what they are posting online is helping or hindering the BLM movement.
“The River of Forgetfulness” by Karen Hines is directed by Griffin McInnes and features 4th year BFA students Alison Adams, Katelyn Doyle, Sam Cranston and Caleb Pauzé. Hines infuses a dash of terror blended with bizarreness into this piece in which the COVID-19 pandemic derails the upcoming performances of fourth year BFA acting students . The cast brilliantly brings this disturbing story to life which includes memory loss and alien invasions. This show not only pushes the boundaries of reality, but the use of different computers, tablets and mobile devices (often showing multiple views and angles), pushes the boundaries of digital performance. The audience is left to wonder about new technologies and the strange things that are happening in the world today.
Ultimately, the cast in the first two plays were remarkable in seamlessly pulling all the pieces together from making their homes their sets, to connecting with each other and the audience, to utilizing various aspects of the Internet and online communication platforms to deliver outstanding online digital dramas.
The final two plays, “The Jubilant” and “Thank You For Your Labour” will wrap up the “The Stream You Step In” series of plays this weekend (Nov. 19, 20, 21 & 22).
The Jubilant by Elena Eli Belyea, examines people’s relationships with technology and communication among each other. A couple is going through marriage counselling, another character films an apology video, one character plans to live forever and another is a Tiktok star. Love, loss and longing intersect in this new work written for and about the internet.
Thank You for Your Labour by Marcus Youssef, about a group of white students who are putting together a musical event to support their racialized peers. For one of their meetings they’ve invited the faculty’s only brown student to join them. Good intentions meet unspoken desires in this Zoom comedy about whiteness, isolation, and how hard it can be to do the right thing.
Showtimes 8pm each night
Tickets are $20 and are available online only at the University Players Box Office.
For more information or to purchase tickets visit https://www.uwindsor.ca/universityplayers/