Drew University Students Produce Virtual Play “Monstress”

NYC Semester on Theatre students worked virtually with the Tectonic Theater Project

March 2021 – Students in the Drew University New York Semester on Theatre were able to work together—whether six feet apart or across the world—to bring a virtual performance to life.

While they weren’t able to travel into New York City to meet with the renowned Tectonic Theater Project due to the COVID-19 pandemic, students worked with the company virtually to help create a hybrid, multimedia-based virtual play, Monstress, which opens this Thursday.

The production, directed by Assistant Teaching Professor Jolie Tong, is an adaptation of three canonical stories—Medusa, Sandman, and White Snake—focusing on thematically-related tales of “monstrous” women. Drew students devised the production under the guidance of master teaching artists from Tectonic Theater Project, which has a 30-year history of developing new plays like The Laramie Project and 33 VariationsDrew has partnered with Tectonic Theater Project for the past five years.

Students studying from home—as far away as Hong Kong, Taiwan, and California—virtually joined residential students to adapt the three stories.

The performance required attention to detail as different styles, including Chinese shadow puppetry, Gothic melodrama, and a modern slant on Greek mythology, were utilized.

“It was certainly a theatrical experience unlike any other,” said Scout Graham C’22, who designed props for the play.

“Not only was I tasked with creating props for an ever-developing, devised work, but I was also doing it remotely off-campus, with the wonderful assistance of those on-campus, who could make my sketches and collages a reality.”

The production process allowed students to gain a rewarding, yet challenging experience as they adapted to the “new normal” of theater.

“I had all these extravagant ideas for being in person, but obviously that wasn’t the case,” said Maddy Sands C’21, who choreographed Sandman. “Ballroom dance, or even just coming up with movement that one would see in such a scene, was a bit of a challenge, but I didn’t let it get too much into my head. I am happy with the way it turned out, and I feel like I have learned so much about myself as a choreographer.”

The most traditional aspects of theater were challenged, and students came together using their familiarity with Zoom and their honed theater skills and techniques to devise Monstress in a new, interactive way. Zoom allowed students to be interactive as each individual student was able to use a unique virtual background, giving students their own way to tell the stories.

With the help of Zoom and the guidance of the Tectonic Theater Project, the students in Drew’s New York Semester on Theatre have created a production that looks and feels as if they they were all together on one (virtual) stage. To view the performance on demand: March 25–March 26, email keanboxoffice@drew.edu for the performance link; March 27–April 12, visit bit.ly/MONSTRESS for tickets.

This story was written by Linsay Arnold C’23.

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