Do you remember Southwestern College’s Mayan Hall last year? The steps would be decorated with tents and bright colors and banners to advertise the upcoming show.
Its halls were once filled with students rehearsing scripts, singing and dancing for events and plays. Backstage there would be students working on costume changes, lighting or rehearsing lines. There would be sounds of moving furniture, the speakers from the back booth would click with every turn of the knob, and the heat from the lights could make you sweat when you stood on stage.
Now fast forward seven months into quarantine. There are no more students rehearsing lines in the hallways, no more moving furniture, no more clicks of the knob in the speaker booth and there is no need to sweat on stage since the lights have been dark since March.
Despite the world changing so much during this pandemic, Southwestern College’s theater department is still thriving and finding ways to help their students succeed. In October and November, the program is “staging” their version of two Ancient Greek tragedies during a time where social distancing has abruptly become the new way of life.
That has been a relief for student Jerry Paras.
“I was sad to see our spring theater productions canceled due to COVID-19, but I am thankful that Southwestern is giving me the opportunity to pursue my major safely at home this semester,” Paras said.
To maintain social distancing, the two plays–”The desTROYers” and “antiGONE”–were written, produced and executed in a whole new way. The two plays were adapted by Tanika Baptiste, a former Southwestern College student and graduate and Professor Ruff Yeager. This innovative presentation of “Hellenic Pandemic” will include two modern twists of ancient Greek tragedies–all performed for free over Zoom.
“The desTROYers” is an adaptation from Euripides’ “The Trojan Women.” It addresses the pandemic of racism set in the near future amid escalating Black Lives Matter protests where the Citizens of Troy rise up against The System.
The story is centered around three generations of women who mourn the loss of the men and freedoms they once loved. Gramma’s husband was killed in an act of police brutality. Sis uses social media to challenge The System’s power and is arrested for treason. And Mama loses her husband to COVID-19 and her son is threatened by The System vigilantes.
“I cannot wait for this production to be seen, and to have our extraordinary cast tell this story,” Baptiste said. “The desTROYers” comes at an appropriate and timely period during our shared pandemic experience, allowing for a collective examination of our present condition–showing where we could potentially end up and how far we have to go.”
The play will air live on Zoom at 7 pm each night of Oct. 12, 13 and 14. The streaming link can be accessed at www.swctheatre.com.
After the play, Baptiste will lead a discussion based on the audience’s reactions to the play. Topics could include language used against communities of color, police brutality and combating systemic racial oppression. Joining Baptiste on Monday will be Southwestern College employees Ursula Morris Williams, Andre Harris and Myesha Jackson. On Tuesday Southwestern College counselor Abdishakur Omar local actor William “BJ” Robinson will join Baptiste. On Wednesday, Dr. Tina King, Southwestern College’s assistant superintendent/vice president for student affairs, will join Baptiste.
“I’m really invigorated by this project,” said Professor Mike Buckley, who is well known for his theater set designs. “Taking an ancient text and re-examining it through the prism of contemporary racial issues gives it a whole new life.
“Tanika and Ruff have adapted the script so brilliantly, you’d swear this was ripped from the headlines, not a ‘classic’ text,” Buckley said. “I’m excited about the discussions this play will spark and the introspection it’ll prompt, including within me.”
Lauren Brazil, an actress in the play, has been reinvigorated by her participation.
“Being part of this production has been a breath of reflective air,” Brazil said. “The cast and crew are so brilliant and I’m astounded by the way we’ve all come together through these trying times. Art like this is the bitter medicine we need, I’m grateful to be co-creating it.”
The second play–which will air Nov. 16, 17 and 18–is “anti/GONE,” an adaptation from “Antigone” by Sophocles, that presents a world overrun by a pandemic.
The new adaptation of Antigone shows Creon, the president of Thebes, building a wall to keep the virus from decimating his city and orders that anyone who dies must be thrown outside the city walls without a burial. His nephew dies of the virus and the corpse is exiled across the wall. Antigone, the dead man’s sister and the president’s niece, insists on burying her beloved brother, defying her uncle’s newly minted executive order. A generational power struggle ensues as Antigone stands trial in a case of God’s Law vs. Man’s Law – the outcome of which will threaten to destroy the nation’s most powerful family and devastate the city.