The show must go on for Cork students ... even in a pandemic

Final year theatre and drama students at Cork School of Music are gearing up to perform one of the most important productions of their lives to-date, writes COLETTE SHERIDAN
The show must go on for Cork students ... even in a pandemic

Students from the Final Year BA Theatre and Drama Studies Performance at Cork School of Music, Munster Technological University will be performing Love and Information.

DIRECTING 22 final year BA theatre and drama students in a play at the CIT Cork School of Music is particularly challenging in the pandemic.

But director, Regina Crowley, is rising to the task, making sure that the production will be of high quality while embracing “the digital format of our current lives”.

The play is Love And Information, written in 2010 by renowned playwright, Caryl Churchill. It examines the role of love in an age where, overloaded with information, people’s attention spans are short. It provokes us to think about the way we make sense of our universe and our place within it.

The play will be streamed from the CIT Cork School of Music to people’s homes in Cork, Ireland, or anywhere in the world.
The play will be streamed from the CIT Cork School of Music to people’s homes in Cork, Ireland, or anywhere in the world.

But before delving into the themes, Regina had to figure out a way of working with the students that would be in line with social distancing.

“There are over 50 scenes in it, mostly with two people in each one. There are no named characters and no location. Nor is there any clear direction. Also, you can put the scenes in whatever order you wish.

“There are seven sections and you can change what order they happen in. In many ways, it’s a snapshot of life, very much in the digital age. There’s a pull between information and love as the human tries to navigate their way. Theatrically, it’s very challenging because there’s no clear narrative or story structure. But that is liberty in that it allows you to make the play your own.”

The play will be streamed from the CIT Cork School of Music to people’s homes in Cork, Ireland, or anywhere else in the world. It will be performed within a three square metre cube which changes.

“Sometimes, i’s covered in balloons, sometimes it’s covered in greenery and sometimes it gets quite surreal. At other times, it’s quite matter of fact, soap opera-like with little scenes. It’s a question of how to find a way to make them breathe.”

There is a stunning array of costumes in the production too.
There is a stunning array of costumes in the production too.

With “a stunning set and costumes,” Regina says the production “is probably the most important moment in the students’ lives.”

But it nearly didn’t happen.

On New Years’s Day, Regina had a Zoom meeting with the students. 

“They all felt it couldn’t go ahead. I wasn’t sure either, particularly around Christmas when the goalposts changed. I was in constant communication with the students.

“It wasn’t until January 9 that we decided to definitely go ahead. We decided we wouldn’t come into the school for the first week of rehearsals.

“I had rehearsed the play over the term on Zoom. In many ways, I feel that stretched the students as creatives and performers. What is actually coming out of it is something more real. I have always encouraged the students to think of themselves more as creative artists.”

The production almost didn't happen due to Covid.
The production almost didn't happen due to Covid.

While Regina put in place as many safety structures at the Stack Theatre in the School of Music as she could, there are people who may be immuno-compromised and have to stay at home. Regina has facilitated these students through Zoom.

“I have one student doing a scene in her bath at home and another student was in his car for a scene. We’ve put the people who couldn’t come in to the Stack theatre on two huge screens on the set. I have been directing with WhatsApp and through text. Technically, it’s hugely complex.

“We’re shooting for three weeks from 10am-8pm nonstop. It takes a huge amount of time. 

"Sometimes, one minute or two minutes of footage would have taken two to three hours. Some of the scenes are only one minute long.”

The experience has been “a real creative stretch for me. But in one way, I’ve found it more creative than ever. Also, the students are thrilled. They thought this play wouldn’t happen.”

With the production being filmed, what is the difference between what Regina is doing and what a film maker would be doing?

The play of choice has given them huge freedom, says Regina Crowley. 
The play of choice has given them huge freedom, says Regina Crowley. 

“It’s still theatre. There’s theatre for film as well but that’s more of a bastard form of theatre. We are drawing in elements from film. We have a broadcast technician on site all of the time so we’re working with radio microphones. There is subtlety and nuance that the actors get.

“Curiously, they think it’s going to be a better show because of the Covid restrictions. It’s just taking more time, more energy and such adaptability.

“Aoife Cahill is doing the filming. We’re working with four high grade cameras so we have long shots and close-ups.

“It’s not just a stationery camera looking on.”

Every day of rehearsals, Regina has to make sure that the actors are blocked and are two metres away from each other.

“We’ve been rehearsing in masks all along. Then, just before the shoot, people take their masks off and put them aside.”

While the wonders of technology are making this production possible, Regina questions whether we’re all that different from people 100 years ago “in the emotional complexity of understanding. There’s a short piece in the play on grief. It’s only about eight lines. It gets me every time.”

The nature of Love And Understanding has given Regina “huge creative freedom. I don’t think we could have done a play if we had gone for a more usual text. Caryl Churchill is quite famous for playing with the theatrical mode.”

The play’s exploration of love in the digital age asks, what is it to be human?

“That is being challenged by all of us now,” says Regina.

Love And Information streams from CIT Cork School of Music from February 23-27. Tickets from csm.cit.ie.

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