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BWW Blog: At Samford, Theatre is Thriving

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Upperclassmen and freshman alike are connecting through the many events that the Underground Theatre has produced. 

BWW Blog: At Samford, Theatre is Thriving

Samford University has been in school approximately three weeks, and the theatre department is already in full swing with a variety of socially distanced, live-theatre events. The Samford Theatre Underground, led by a committee of students, has had to pivot this semester. A summer of brainstorming and planning has led to a full calendar for theatre students. Events so far have included several synchronous theatre gatherings: table reads, group discussions of plays, and live-streamed productions. Upperclassmen and freshman alike are connecting through the many events that the Underground Theatre has produced.

BWW Blog: At Samford, Theatre is Thriving
Upperclassmen and freshman alike
are connecting through the
many events that the
Samford Theatre Underground
has produced.

The Underground Theatre has always been responsible for bringing students together through the organization and oversight of student-produced productions. Samford Theatre Underground's Artistic Director, Nicholas Di Prima, (Senior, Theatre for Youth major) states, "Samford Theatre Underground has always served as an outlet for student-driven work. Whether it be performing, writing, directing or designing, the Underground has allowed students to find their artistic voice by claiming full ownership of their works as an artist." During a typical semester, the underground committee selects one to three student play proposals to sponsor. Unfortunately, this is not a normal semester due to the cancellation of mainstage shows and the mandate that all students must socially distance and wear masks.

Because of extensive social distancing protocols, the Underground Theatre has had to come up with creative solutions in order to help students grow artistically. Nicholas Di Prima further states, "[The challenge of COVID] gave us a unique chance to analyze where we were and see how we can take this time of change to become an even better place of opportunity. Currently, the Underground is producing more student-driven original work than it has in any year of Samford Theatre." The Underground Committee, composed of nine student leaders of various years and theatre majors, had many meetings this summer in order to provide their peers with many creative opportunities.

The organization has stepped up in order to fill the void of the lack of Samford main stage productions through weekly, biweekly, and special events. Weekly and biweekly events include play reading club, table reads, and a production streaming. Special events include, a travel theatre outdoor experience featuring student work, a socially distanced Duncan MacMillan production of Lungs, and a student produced film festival. As a result of these opportunities, theatre students are busy as usually, reading, writing, directing, acting, and designing. "We are seeing student writers present their work for the first time to an audience, actors exploring venues they have never explored before, and designers approach technical challenges they have never previously encountered," reflects Nicholas Di Prima.

BWW Blog: At Samford, Theatre is Thriving
Every Monday, students gather outdoors
to discuss a play that they have
each read individually for the
Samford Theatre Underground's Play Reading Club.

Play reading club has allowed Samford students to connect intellectually over reading scripts. Every Monday, students gather outdoors to discuss a play that they have each read individually. These meetings consist of discussions based on the themes, characters, and ideas from the plays read. Although classes like theatre history require students to read a range of plays, the play reading club was established in order to provide students with a voice in what plays they wanted to read and reflect on together.

Anna Medley was excited to share her passion for plays by leading the inaugural meeting of the play reading club. This club was the first Underground event to happen this semester and was quite successful. Two plays have been read so far: 45 Plays for 45 Presidents and The Nina Variations. Underground Committee Member Anna Medley (Senior, Musical Theatre major) states, "Play Reading Club was such a refreshing start to what I know will be a different and innovative semester. We were able to meet and discuss theatre while still remaining safe."

BWW Blog: At Samford, Theatre is Thriving
On Fridays for the Table Reading performances,
up to fifty masked students sit
in the outdoor theatre space to
enjoy the socially distanced performance.

Weekly table readings of student work has brought live performance back to the department. Table readings happen every Friday in an outdoor performing space. In order for a table read to happen, a play written by a student is selected, and a director is chosen to oversee the project. Next, Samford students enter a random drawing to be selected as actors. After the group of actors is selected, the director casts the show and hosts around three virtual rehearsals. When the day of the table reading arrives, up to fifty masked students sit in the outdoor theatre space to enjoy the socially distanced performance.

Freshman Kristen Erickson made her debut on the Samford stage during a table read performance. Surprised and grateful, Kirsten Erickson (Freshman, Acting/Directing major) says, "With COVID it was looking like hardly anyone would be able to perform this year, but then the Underground stepped in and has had a ton of opportunities!" Kirsten further states, "I feel like the Samford theatre has really rallied behind the freshman. Everyone was so kind and uplifting it made me feel like I was a part of the department even though I'd only been there two weeks!" The live events have helped freshmen and transfer students connect with other theatre students.

Director Baleigh Nelson and Playwright Zoe Clark both are thankful to be a part of a live theatre experience during this confusing time. Baleigh Nelson (Junior, Theatre for Youth major) was ecstatic to direct Cirque De La V, a play written by Anna Johnson (Senior, Theatre for Youth major). Baleigh shares, "I am so blessed to be involved in an art form that can and has survived so much. Getting to direct amazing people is always a bonus!" The next table read performance will feature Chasing the Albatross, a play written by Zoe Clark (Sophomore, Acting/Directing major). Zoe states, "I'm honored that [Chasing the Albatross], the first full-length play I've ever written, gets to be one of these special moments and am ecstatic to see it performed!"

BWW Blog: At Samford, Theatre is Thriving
"Talkback Tuesday" allows students to
see professional work
in a safe way and discuss it
afterwards with their peers

"Talkback Tuesday," is a bi-weekly streaming party of a professional recorded performance with a live discussion afterwards. "Talkback Tuesday" allows students to see expert work in a safe way and discuss it afterwards with their peers. Students gather on blankets outdoors in order to watch a show on a big projector. After the show has ended, a discussion about the play is led by an Underground Committee member. The inaugural "Talkback Tuesday" show was Shakespeare in the Park's 2019 production of Much Ado About Nothing.

More than just theatre majors attended the first Talkback Tuesday thanks to Ansley Burnette's invitation to her English class. The English department's Shakespeare class was reading Much Ado About Nothing when the Underground announced that the same play would be the focus of "Talkback Tuesday." Ansley Burnette (Junior, Acting/Directing and English double-major) excitedly let her Shakespeare class know about the opportunity, and as a result, five English students and a professor attended the show. Ansley Burnette states, "It was super exciting to have different departments working together-especially during hard times like these."

Watching and discussing a Shakespeare play with friends was a highlight of Jake Lane's week. Jake Lane (Junior, English major and Theatre minor) eloquently states, "Talkback Tuesday was a great opportunity to get together and enjoy a piece of Theatre under the stars. The conversation about the production we watched-Shakespeare in the Park's 2019 production of Much Ado About Nothing-ranged in topics from the way the language holds up today to this particular production's very prescient and timely setting." The discussion part of "Talkback Tuesday" allows students to process and share what they learned.

In conclusion, Underground Theatre events have given Samford students special opportunities to continue pursuing their passions. Underground Committee member Tessa Hall (Junior, Technical Theatre major) states, "Being back on campus [as well as] being a theatre major, brings [me] hope. Out of a dark period in history, theatre prevails, and I'm proud to be back in that." After seeing the entire Samford Theatre Department, as well as the Underground Theatre, adapt to the current state of the world, Artistic Director Nicholas Di Prima is excited for the future. Nicholas muses, "The Underground is in a growth process at the moment, but I believe it is one that will change the way we look at the Underground for years to come. As our society heals from this pandemic and the world finds its new normal, I hope the Underground takes these new opportunities with it and transforms into a truly inclusive organization where all students can find their voice, passion and calling."

A special thanks should be extended to all the students that have made the Underground Theatre events possible by assisting, leading, participating, and attending. Also, appreciation should be given to the Underground Committee, made up of Nicholas Di Prima, Anna Lynn Starr, Anna Medley, Carmen Murray, Christina Ledbetter, Tessa Hall, Audrey Myers, Anna Stevens, and Grayson Johns, for dreaming big and making live events happen.


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