Streamed plays, radio dramas, and more in store for Northeastern theater

Brenna Thornton, who studies theater, works on a flower crown in the costume shop at Northeastern. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

As stage manager of a theatrical production, Emma Nafz would ordinarily be working shoulder-to-shoulder with costume, lighting, and directing staff. But this fall, the Northeastern student instead created a tutorial video to help actors set up at-home stages for a totally online performance.

Margaret Koerber, supervisor for the Costume Lab at Northeastern, sorts through costumes for upcoming performances. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

“Every person is basically in a one-person theater and has to be their own crew,” Nafz says of “Downtown Crossing,” a play created by Boston-based Company One Theatre and performed in partnership with Northeastern and the Boston Public Library. The production, which streamed online from Oct. 22-25, was one of many Northeastern theatrical shows that have adapted to the pandemic by streaming online as a prerecorded performance or by experimenting with new formats entirely.

“All of our productions this semester are non-traditional,” says Antonio Ocampo-Guzman, chair of Northeastern’s Department of Theatre.

Currently, the theatre department is presenting “She Kills Monsters,” a piece students began rehearsing in the spring that was deferred when the university’s campuses closed. The play, about a woman who aims to learn about her sister’s life through a Dungeons and Dragons module, is streaming each evening through Nov. 1.

Next up is “Scenes from Metamorphoses,” a modern feminist take on the myths of Ovid that students will perform with creative effects on Zoom.

Des Bennett, a fifth-year theater student and director of the piece, had been working on her concept for months before the pandemic hit.

“I had originally intended that the project would focus on gender, but that got turned upside down,” says Bennett, who is directing the piece for her capstone project. “The project no longer became about the concept, it became about how to do it on Zoom and socially distanced.”

With the pandemic in mind, “all of our productions this semester are non-traditional,” said Antonio Ocampo-Guzman, chair of the Department of Theatre. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Performing theater on Zoom means that actors have two stages to consider: their physical space (the room in which they’re performing), and the virtual space they share with other actors.

Bennett says she relied on the technical training she gained from Northeastern classes, as well as on her classmates, to figure out how to merge these two stages into a coherent visual performance.

Combined with some pre-recorded footage, the students will use green screens, colored glass, and other objects to change their Zoom squares into virtual stages, Bennett says.

“It’s been a fun challenge,” she says, adding that techniques such as these might soon be the standard for theater.

Performances that would be in an auditorium during any other semester will be performed live and streamed online or adapted into a radio play this fall. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

“I really feel strongly that the landscape of theater is going to change dramatically based on this time we’re in,” she says. “The technical innovations we’re creating aren’t going to go away.”

“Scenes from Metamorphoses” will be streaming Nov. 13-27. Registration is required.

Later this semester, students will perform a radio drama in partnership with Northeastern’s radio station, WRBB. The piece is loosely based on the Langston Hughes poem “Harlem” and Lorraine Hansberry’s novel A Raisin in the Sun, Ocampo-Guzman says.

Students will record the narrative in accordance with public health guidelines for an episodic tale that will be broadcast on WRBB and released as a podcast later.

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