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    • Cast members at an early rehearsal for Actions Outlive Us. From left to right: Felipe Perez ’22, Talia Chang ’22, Joey Rebeschi ’21, Margaret Toft ’21. Photo credit: Zach Williamson '22

    • Actors at a dress rehearsal for Actions Outlive Us, with director Margaret Toft ’21 standing center and Ian Melchinger and Ella Norwitt ’21 serving as film crew. Photo Credit: Zach Williamson ’22

Summer Student Production Tradition Continues Amidst COVID Restrictions

Zach Williamson ’22 Lead Arts Editor
On September 3 and 4, the Hopkins Drama Association (HDA) put on Actions Outlive Us in New Haven’s Edgerton Park.
The show was produced through HDA’s Student Productions (StuPro) program, and was directed by Margaret Toft ’21 and Drew Slager ’21. 

Student Productions are a celebrated HDA tradition, yielding a student-directed piece each year since 2014. Arts teacher Mike Calderone recalled the year the program began: “We had one student, Karma Masselli [’15], and a crew of stalwart HDA veterans who wanted to do more work than the department provided. We knew they were serious, responsible, and capable, and they were going to rehearse over the summer between their junior and senior years. All they really needed from the Drama Department was a time and space to perform. As suspected, they worked diligently and produced a memorable show.” 

Student Productions allow seasoned HDA students to experiment with another side of theater as they begin the process of transitioning from Hopkins to whatever comes next. To be eligible for selection as director or producer, students must be in the Senior School in the coming September. They also must have taken Acting and/or Ensemble Theater classes and have acted in or stage managed at least two HDA productions. “The ultimate goal of any school is to send its students off to work on their own be it in college, in their hobbies or their careers,” Calderone remarked. “Part of being ready to go off on one's own is real life experience; truly knowing the ins and outs of a task at hand. Students will never truly know what it takes to produce a show until they're in the trenches with actors, a tech crew, schedules, deliveries and a looming opening night!” 

Actions Outlive Us was written entirely by Toft during quarantine. After her experience writing Just Zoo It for Post-It Notes, a series of comedy one-acts put on in December 2019, Toft said that she “wrote four other horrendous plays and threw them out to get to this idea.” An ensemble show and workplace comedy, the play follows the employees of the Enchanters Corporation, a company that deals in magic. The play’s characters have complex relationships with the Corporation, from deep-seated mistrust to utter reliance. In Toft’s words, Actions Outlive Us is about “people being stuck together who do not want to be stuck together.”

The show’s workplace setting allowed for the institution of proper social distancing measures without interrupting the believability of the plot. Actors are masked at all times onstage, and remain six feet apart whenever possible. While the original plan for the show was a performance between the two Thompson atriums on campus, the show was ultimately performed in Edgerton Park to allow for a socially distant audience. Toft and Slager kept the audience an appropriate size by opting for an invite-only model. While restricting the audience was unfortunate, it was necessary and had merits; Toft mused, “It’s sweet in its own way that we are only showing this show to our closest friends and our family, and it feels like a really nice community experience.”

Co-directing has been a positive experience for all involved. Slager commented, “Directing with Margaret was a pleasure, from late-night phone calls and Zooms to Goodwill trips after rehearsal. We both wanted to provide some laughs after a very long time away from the Hopkins community, and I think we did just that.” Toft echoed Slager’s sentiment: “Drew has been a fantastic partner! It’s such a joy to have someone to co-direct with, because you get to bounce ideas off of each other, and you can split the technical side of things down the middle, so one person doesn’t have to wear all the hats. It’s so nice to have someone to talk to about organizing the show and about what lines should be memorized when.”

While Toft and Slager have maintained a friendship throughout their Hopkins careers, Actions Outlive Us is their first directorial outing as a duo. Toft explained how she and Slager decided to work together: “The first time Drew and I really worked together closely was last summer’s Student Production, Almost Maine [dir. Leah Miller ’20]. It was a series of two-person vignettes and Drew and I acted together in one. We had a good time and made a great team, and that’s what made me realize that we could do this show together.” 

This production is neither Toft nor Slager’s first directorial experience. They both directed one-act plays for Post-It Notes. Three cast members in this summer’s show also performed in Toft and Slager’s one-acts: Talia Chang ’22 and Felipe Perez ’22, who played Aika and Oliver respectively, starred in Slager’s piece, while Ty Eveland ’22, who played Flynn, starred in Toft’s. Chang reflected on her experiences working with Slager: “Drew was an excellent director in the Winter One-acts, so I was so excited to work with not only him but my co-lead Felipe again for this show. Drew has offered amazing advice and helped me grow as an actor in so many ways.” Eveland commented on his previous experiences working with Toft: “This show has been different than Just Zoo It because in that show we each played multiple roles while in this show I only play one. Margaret taught Elroy [Elizabeth Roy ’20, Eveland’s co-star] and I how important physicality was to differentiate our characters, and I’ve been able to use the skill in this show by showing my emotions through action rather than my face, since we all have to wear masks.”

The cast of Actions Outlive Us rehearsed in two separate groups, broken into “sides” of about five students each. While originally structured to facilitate two simultaneous performances across the atriums, when plans changed, the breakup of the cast allowed them to rehearse in smaller groups that made it easier to keep actors socially distant on stage. Chang spoke of her experience working on this show amid the realities of COVID-19: “I really enjoyed working on this show despite the circumstances presented by the pandemic. I was able to safely see some of my good friends in rehearsals, and, although many challenges arose due to COVID, under the leadership of Drew and Margaret, this show has definitely been a memorable experience!” 

Working together in such a challenging time has helped students cope with the harsh realities of life amid the pandemic. Perez remarked, “When working with your peers and friends there is absolutely a need for professionalism and respect all around. It's a great environment for having fun and developing confidence and collaborative skills.” Toft shared a similar sentiment: “I love this cast so much. I go to rehearsal, and I’m stressed about the logistics and all the safety protocols that we have to make sure we’re following and the audience is following, but all that stress just melts away when I get to work with the cast. They are such a delightful, talented group of people that I think are being very generous and very selfless right now, because they’re putting their time into creating a piece of art that other people are going to enjoy. I love this cast, they are some of my best friends that I’ve met at Hopkins, and it’s such a privilege to get to work with them.” 

Actions Outlive Us was filmed at its September 4 performance, and will be edited and released to the Hopkins community in the fall.

Disclaimer: Zach Williamson served as Stage Manager for Actions Outlive Us.
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