NU Declassified: No Stage, No Problem

Lawrence Price, Reporter

NU Declassified dove into Lovers & Madmen’s winter radio play “Sense and Sensibility,” which premiered February 25th. Contributors to the show, including the producer and director, explained how Discord, Zoom and other platforms were used to bring it to life.

LAWRENCE PRICE: From The Daily Northwestern, I’m Lawrence Price and this is NU Declassified, a look into how Wildcats thrive and survive on Northwestern’s campus. During a normal school year, StuCo —  the Northwestern Student Theatre Coalition — would prepare for several shows in the Norris Student Center. The COVID-19 pandemic, however, forced some theater groups to pivot and use different creative mediums for virtual performance. This included Lovers & Madmen’s radio version of “Sense and Sensibility,” a play written by Kate Hamill and based on the novel by Jane Austen. “Sense and Sensibility” premiered online February 25th.

LAWRENCE PRICE: The producer of the show, Communication junior Simran Deokule, signed on to the process in May 2020. At the time, whether the show could be in person was still up in the air. And although this was not Simran’s first experience in the role of producer, she was excited to work with her close friend, Communication junior Karina Patel, who directed the show.

SIMRAN DEOKULE: Karina was so passionate about the show and so I was like, ‘I want to do what she’s excited about and her excitement makes me excited.’ We knew going into show selection that we didn’t want to do a musical, but we wanted to do a play with music because we were really excited about giving musicians and producers on campus the opportunity to compose and create their own music. “Sense and Sensibility” was perfect for that.

“Sense and Sensibility” wasn’t even on our list until literally like the day before we had to pitch. She called me up at 1 a.m. because she was in London. 

LAWRENCE PRICE: Like other StuCo processes, the radio play was given two options due to the pandemic: they could push the show back to the spring for an in-person performance, or hold a virtual winter show. The pair chose the latter. When Karina and Simran were sophomores, they worked together on a series of three shows, getting their first introductions to directing and producing. Now, a year later, the two were ready to come together and take on the transition from stage to radio. Here’s Karina.

KARINA PATEL: We were kind of like, well, if we have original music being composed for this, maybe it would actually be really cool to do a radio play because then we can really lean into the audio experience. Especially, we’re working with Austen’s language and that text and it’s just so beautiful.

LAWRENCE PRICE: The duo wanted to feature original music for their play and incorporated three live instruments — cello, viola and violin. Behind the music component were the co-music coordinator supervisors, Bienen and Medill senior Ezri Killeen, Communication junior Sarah Geltz, and their team. The two worked alongside the composition team to build the foundation and musical language for the show, and from there added the electronic music and recordings. Ezri started out advising Simran informally, regarding how music royalties and recording works, and then wound up joining the team.

EZRI KILEEN: In the theater world, we rarely touch the production side of things. Usually it’s like a hot commodity if you have that skill, and in the pandemic world, it’s become like, in order to do theater online everybody has to deal with production. We were only able to get in the same room twice, three times max, and even then we weren’t able to do it with the correct equipment, we kind of had to be turning on a dime.

LAWRENCE PRICE: Simran and Karina found the process of assembling the production virtually to be very different from previous processes, but still full of joy and fulfillment in its own way.                                                                   

KARINA PATEL: I cut the rehearsal timeline down significantly so that we were only spending around two, two and a half hours on Zoom every night. In terms of trying to foster that virtual sense of community, I did things like check-ins. We did a Just Dance routine to warm up at the beginning of each rehearsal to get everybody moving and having fun. One thing that I am so glad that we did is just let ourselves goof off and let ourselves lose focus a bit, because those moments are so hard to achieve over Zoom

LAWRENCE PRICE: Every cast member’s lines were recorded over the gaming communication platform Discord. Afterwards, Communication sophomore Luke Arnold, the show’s sound designer and engineer, stitched them together. 

LAWRENCE PRICE: The virtual experience made everyone involved with the show step out of their comfort zone. In a way, Simran felt like this made the show even better by demanding new levels of flexibility and ingenuity from the cast and crew.  

SIMRAN DEOKULE: The only way we were able to pull this off is because everyone was so willing to show up and be a part of it, even though we were going through everything that we’re going through and even though there’s so much uncertainty, there was still excitement for the project and people taking initiative in ways that just blow me away. 

LAWRENCE PRICE: This way of thinking led the web designers to create an interactive experience, using a computer software called Blender to go along with the radio play. 

KARINA PATEL: We have things popping up everywhere, these birds flying around, then the animation moves around and takes you different places. And that for me was just a huge help in setting up that visual language and that feeling of being whisked from one scene to the next. That would be hard to achieve through just the audio alone. In a way I do think that we got some really good things from this sort of restrictions that the pandemic has given us, because we wouldn’t have been so intentional. I don’t think about doing this play in the format that we chose, if we didn’t have to.

LAWRENCE PRICE: In what Simran described as a whirlwind and Karina, a slow burn romance, the nine month process was anything but a normal experience.  

SIMRAN DEOKULE: I’m just really happy with how it turned out, and so grateful for the experience and really excited to see all the amazing things that this team, and the people on this team does next.

LAWRENCE PRICE: From The Daily Northwestern, I’m Lawrence Price. Thanks for listening to another episode of NU Declassified. This episode was reported and produced by me, Lawrence Price. The audio editor of The Daily Northwestern is Alex Chun, the digital managing editors are Molly Lubbers and Olivia Yarvis, and the editor in chief is Sneha Dey.

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