Smile Politely

Illinois Theatre Class of 2020 showcases emerging talent

When there is no theatre, a distinct absence can be felt. It is as though a piece of a community or person’s identity has been torn from them, and hidden.

Such has been the case for Champaign-Urbana, and community theaters alike. But even more heart wrenching has been how seniors in the university’s Bachelor’s of Fine Arts acting program have been affected.

Every year seniors work toward a showcase held in Chicago. In this showcase students are able to demonstrate what they have learned throughout their time in the program, and showcase their talents to agents, casting directors, and artistic directors. The showcase is meant to be a magical, albeit nerve-wracking, experience for the seniors. Obviously, with the current pandemic and shelter-in-place a giant wrench was thrown in their plans. If there was any silver lining in this it was the fact that Illinois Theatre jumped to action quickly, and canceled the performances very early.

Such a decision, according to Professor Aaron Munoz, “allowed for an understandable time for grief” for the showcase participants. Munoz went on to explain that the early cancellation also “gave us the opportunity to pivot, and use the tech savvy and talents of our students to create something new.”

And create something new they did.

Each and every senior reworked their own concepts, typically presented as multiple two-person scenes, to build a digital showcase. Sketches, monologues, musical performances, artistic shorts were all pieced together into an anthology of engaging stories. Participants of the showcase “became filmmakers. Each piece is a micro-film”.

All of the performances were a delight to watch. With some it was clear they were meant for stage or a live performance, not for camera, but that never distracted from the performances.

Throughout the showcase there were several standouts.

One in particular was Kathleen Sullivan and Ilana Weiner’s performance of a scene from Jennifer Rachel Weiner’s “I’ll Get You, My Pretty”. The scene came across as a parody of the modern holistic “hipster” woman; the type to have a coffee order 20 words long and be hopelessly devoted to Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop. The scene opens with what seems to be a yoga or guided meditation session between two friends. Without spoiling too much, the scene spirals downward through metaphysical, holistic mumbo jumbo, and entitled craziness. Aside from the writing, Sullivan and Weiner’s comedic timing, and their ability to perfectly amp up their energy as things became crazier brought the characters to life perfectly.

The performance of a monologue from Itamar Moses’ “The Four of Us” by Gabriel Willem Herzog was another stand out. Although at times Herzog seemed to be rehashing lines rather than embodying them, the honesty of the story could be felt. There was still a rawness about the fear of feeling nothing for a person, and what that means about you as a person. Are you a bad person for feeling nothing? Will you ever feel anything again? And so on. Thank you Gabriel for broaching a subject that not many people are willing to speak about.

Throughout the showcase Emma Anderson, and Robert Bradley also stood out. I enjoyed their ability to approach their characters, and lines with ease and subtlety. They showcased characters who felt like people sitting right in front of me and holding a conversation with me.

Additionally, I very much enjoyed Dane Brandon. Not only does his smile light up the screen, his monologue from Jordan Seavey’s “Homos, Or Everyone in America” was deeply personal, and hilarious all at the same time. He took a monologue that seems to be an intimate moment on stage, and turned it into what came across as a vlog that would be at the top of YouTube’s trending page. And Dane, I don’t mean that in a bad way. It came across as a vlog that is what YouTube used to be like and should be again: personal, moving, funny, vulnerable, and honest.

Nothing beats live performances. There is no doubt about that. However, when circumstances force changes to theatre and art, creative minds tend to create wonderful alternatives. The 2020 BFA Senior Showcase is a fantastic example of that fact. The devotion of every senior to execute their visions regardless of the format or any hiccups that may have occurred along the way were incredibly evident.

Although it premiered on Thursday April 23rd, the Illinois Theatre Showcase is still available online

To all of the BFA seniors, congratulations on this accomplishment. The world’s current situation may have altered the showcase, and robbed you of a commencement you have worked towards, but you have a lot to be proud of. I hope for the best in all of your future endeavors that may come from this showcase. 

Break all of the legs. 

Top image: Group photo of the University of Illinois Theatre Department’s BFA candidates from the Class of 2020. Photo from Illinois Theatre.

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