"Boxes" and "It’s a Wonderful Life!" Take to the Stage
The fall show is an important one for the Hopkins Drama Association (HDA); it sets the tone for the rest of the year and shows Hopkins how HDA will adapt to the new COVID policies.
This year, Drama faculty Hope Hartup and Mike Calderone face unique challenges with socially-distant performances and the hybrid system. Their solution to these problems is to put on two productions that rehearse during each cohort’s respective in-person week. Calderone is directing Boxes during Maroon week, while Hartup is directing It’s a Wonderful Life! during Grey week. This year’s shows are pushing both the actors and directors to adjust how they have learned their craft in past years and to adapt to the new restrictions for a safe, socially distant performance, all while keeping the spirit of HDA alive.
Boxes, written and directed by Calderone, is a commentary on the way we have all been forced to live since March: in boxes. In Calderone’s words, “we’re confined to the four walled boxes of our homes and rooms; we communicate through Zoom tiles and computer monitors; we receive food, entertainment and necessities through deliveries from Fresh Direct and Amazon boxes.” Boxes is based completely on input from Hopkins students, and their stories are told with only sixteen actors, eight technicians, and three white boxes. Calderone says this show is also unique because actor’s faces are fully covered by professional grade character masks, along with PPE masks underneath. Calderone also chose to make the performance a silent one, where the actors won’t be talking under the professional grade masks. For actor Anand Choudhary ’22, “the biggest challenge is expressing [his emotions through physical movement. Something that might’ve been a small gesture before now has to be super big and obvious, otherwise the audience won’t understand what’s going on.”
However, even with so many limitations, Calderone is still taking on some of the heaviest topics of our current political climate. Calderone is addressing what “experiences have been like regarding quarantine, the pandemic, politics, BLM [Black Lives Matter], you name it.” Calderone has also had to adapt to only having half his normal audition pool. He said that the biggest drawback is “considering the students in the ‘other’ cohort who might have been better suited for the show in the opposite week.” On the upside, with one week on and one week off, he has “an intense week of rehearsing followed by a week to gather props, write, and plan.” However, despite all of the preparation put into creating such a unique show, Calderone still recognized that, with new developments in the spread of COVID or a potential second wave, his plans could change. Calderone admitted that “we would have to do a major shift from a live performance in Lovell to a Zoom performance from individual homes,” but he has “about four different plans waiting in the wings ready to be released if anything changes from the plan we are currently working on.” He still is holding out hope for a live performance, though, as he believes “so much more is communicated when people are together in the same space.”
Hartup and her Grey cohort of actors are taking a different approach to putting on a show this year. Hartup doesn’t need or want a contingency plan; her play, It’s a Wonderful Life! will be in a live radio-show format. Hartup said that a “play of this format would not have been what I would normally have chosen to do,” but she is finding that the “students are rising to the occasion.” As for challenges, Hartup’s biggest initial concern was the split between Grey and Maroon week actors. She felt that “the bulk of the more experienced performers ended up in the Maroon cohort.” That, however, turned itself into a positive, as Hartup now has “been able to include some new and younger students to our roster.” Emerson DelMonico ’21 said, “Working with Hope is great. She always gives us feedback and makes sure everyone is doing the best they can, especially during COVID.” Hartup plans on having the show recorded the second weekend in November for a December airing. She said it is a “little up in the air as to whether or not we can have even a small audience attend these recordings,” because of “the number of people we will need just to record sound and tape the performance.” Despite the virtual adaptability of this performance, Hartup also still recognizes the potential for her plans to go awry. Her strategy? “Adapt, adjust and revise.”
For seniors, these shows will be some of their last at Hopkins. Co-head of HDA and actor in Boxes Joey Rebeschi ’21 is thankful for all the work Calderone has put into creating “a concept for a show that prioritizes safety while still providing an outlet for those in the drama department.” Rebeschi added that Boxes “has been a lot of fun to be a part of” and that he’s “excited for people to see the full mask work!”
Quarantine has been a trying time for all involved. Despite the trials and tribulations of, quite literally, living life in a box, the theater program is still looking to find ways to amaze and inspire. In Oscar Wilde’s words, theater is “the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.” HDA is finding ways to convey that message of what it means to be a Hopkins student right now and how to look for the good rather than the bad.