Podculture: From a Stage to a Screen

Jordan Mangi and Clay Lawhead

Synchronizing tap dances and vocal cut offs is difficult over Zoom. But the show must go on. Performance groups describe what it’s like to continue performing and building community virtually this fall quarter.

JORDAN MANGI: From The Daily Northwestern, I’m Jordan Mangi.

CLAY LAWHEAD: And I’m Clay Lawhead. This is Podculture, a podcast covering arts and entertainment on and around Northwestern’s campus.

JORDAN MANGI: This week, we’re talking about performance groups at Northwestern and what they’re doing while in-person shows aren’t an option. NU has a vibrant and extensive student arts scene, with a cappella groups, improv teams, dance groups and theatre boards.

CLAY LAWHEAD: In a normal year, there is a show at least every weekend, usually more. But with stay-at-home orders still in place, these groups are trading the stage for the screen.

DANIELLA ASAPOKHAI: This has really emphasized the importance of being flexible and not being too invested in one way of doing things. When you’re in group, know what that group is about and what your main goals are, and once you know that, you can figure out different ways to accomplish that.

CLAY LAWHEAD: That’s Communication senior Daniella Asapokhai. She’s the president of Tonik Tap, a dance group that has needed to adapt to new challenges.

DANIELLA ASAPOKHAI: It was really hard to figure out what we would do, because you can’t have people all tapping together over a Zoom call. And it was also difficult because not everyone has a space where they can tap in their homes. When we were dancing over Zoom, we usually just have everyone stay muted; whoever’s teaching have their sound on, and that’s been working. It’s not ideal, but we’re making it work.

JORDAN MANGI: Audio delaying isn’t a problem unique to dance groups. Bienen senior Lorenzo Pipino is the music director for Purple Haze, a Northwestern a cappella group.

LORENZO PIPINO: Just with latency issues and delay, even if I’m saying something, you’re hearing it, like, 0.5 seconds later, but when you’re singing and you’re trying to like align all of your consonants and your cut offs, it becomes a mess. The max it will ever work for is like two people. Like, where one person just mutes and then they sing along.

CLAY LAWHEAD: Beyond technical difficulties, Purple Haze has made bigger changes. The group usually spends Fall Quarter recruiting and welcoming new members. But instead, they’re focusing on community-building with the existing ensemble this quarter.

LORENZO PIPINO: We’ve had a few meetings and stuff just to catch up and decide what we’re doing. We also are trying to do some social game nights over Zoom as much as we can. And given a lot of our members are in Evanston, we did something outside last week, like we all met up on the Lakefill, and we got in a big circle and hung out, which was fun.

JORDAN MANGI: Purple Haze isn’t alone in that choice. NACCA — the coalition of NU a cappella groups — is instead hosting workshops for new students about a cappella. And other groups are expanding programming, like StuCo — the Student Theatre Coalition — hosting open rehearsals for new students interested in theatre.

JORDAN MANGI: Despite the limitations, performance groups are still evolving and adapting. A lot has changed since the first virtual shows NU students produced in April and May. Actors performed live from their homes and used green-screen backgrounds on Zoom to suggest setting. But this quarter, some theatre shows are doing things differently.

ARELLA FLUR: Our set designer, Zoe, she is building stuff in her apartment and sending pieces of it directly to the people, but also creating something that can be green-screened into people’s backgrounds. Our lighting designer has a multi-color array of lights that are being sent directly to the actor’s home so that way they can use LED color lights and change it during the show and candles for darker moments.

CLAY LAWHEAD: That was Communication sophomore Arella Flur. She’s the producer of “The Trojan Women,” a show going up October 9 and 10.

JORDAN MANGI: “The Trojan Women” is a Greek tragedy by Euripides about the women of Troy in the aftermath of a war that has destroyed their city and their lives. The director, Pallas Gutierrez, a former Daily staffer and Communication senior, felt the themes of the play are relevant to the current disaster we’re living through.

PALLAS GUTIERREZ: It’s a real story of resilience and communities coming together to survive something horrible and figure out what life is going to look like. And that felt very real in March, or May, and it feels more real all the time. And going into rehearsal with that mentality of resilience and that there’s some amount of resistance just in surviving and continuing to live, especially for these women is — like there’s a strength to be gained from that.

CLAY LAWHEAD: Communication senior Melissa Lewyn is directing a play for the PLAYground Festival of Fresh Works, which consists of three one-hour plays for young audiences during the last three weeks of October. And it is her first creative endeavor done virtually.

MELISSA LEWYN: The process has been really rewarding. I’ve been nervous how we can foster connections when we’re all in different places, but I’ve been really taking a lot of time in my rehearsal room to do theatre games and stretching and things that usually can bring people together in person.

CLAY LAWHEAD: Melissa found that virtual theatre has been just as meaningful to her as live theatre at Northwestern.

MELISSA LEWYN: I think a lot of people are skeptical, but in my experience, it’s a bunch of people coming together to make art, even though we’re not in the same room. I’ve had a very cathartic experience after every rehearsal I’ve led. It definitely is a really good substitution, like oat milk or something.

CLAY LAWHEAD: From The Daily Northwestern, I’m Clay Lawhead.

JORDAN MANGI: And I’m Jordan Mangi. Thanks for listening to Podculture.

CLAY LAWHEAD: This episode was reported and produced by both Jordan Mangi and myself, Clay Lawhead.

JORDAN MANGI: The audio editor of The Daily Northwestern is Alex Chun, the digital managing editors are Molly Lubbers and Jacob O’Hara, and the editor in chief is Marissa Martinez.

Email: [email protected] and [email protected]
Twitter: @jordanrose718 and @omqclaydoh

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