Our Time: Preserving the pandemic through theater

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Justin Lahue

Justin Lahue’s short film, “March,” will be included in this weekend’s production of “Our Time.”

This week, students will document their pandemic experiences in the Suffolk University Theatre Department’s (SUTD) virtual performance “Our Time.”

The three-night production is directed and curated by Suffolk theatre professor Wesley Savick. Each evening’s performances will be different and are composed entirely of original student work, including monologues, short films, poetry, songs, dance, playwriting, puppetry and personal testimonies.

When the pandemic began last spring, Savick wanted his students to take the opportunity to explore the new situation of quarantine through weekly prompts and readings.

In a class of 15 students, this resulted in 300 pages of material that dealt with the themes of repetition, isolation and stress. 

“The students of that semester never gave up and I was very very moved by their actions,” Savick said.

From there, “Our Time” was born. 

Following the pre-recorded show on April 15-17, the three segments will be stored in a digital vault for future generations to stream. 

“We don’t even know how this [pandemic] is going to turn out yet, but this is what it feels like right now, and we’re going to preserve it in amber,” Savick said.

In this new world of virtual theater, performances can now be documented and saved whereas in the past, performances often disappeared. For “Our Time,” the SUTD will make it perpetually viewable via a Vimeo link

“Our Time” will be streaming April 15-17 at 7:30 p.m. Each evening’s performance will be different and composed entirely of original student work. (Roz M. Beauchemin)

Savick said this is like sending an SOS message in a bottle to your future self or child.

“Could you put a message in a bottle and send it to your future self, like if it’s not your own child, it’s someone who’s born today, or last week, or next month,” he said. “Who’s going to be around your age in 18 or 19 years to see what were people thinking and feeling.”

“March,” directed and edited by junior Justin Lahue, is one of the short films that will be included in the production. Lahue used two cameras to play with the concept of time and repetition through time-lapses, regular footage and percussive soundscapes. 

“Like many others, the quarantine was a period where some days would pass in seconds, while individual moments could play out for days,” Lahue said. “This monotony soon turned to a bizarre comfort as I learned to adapt to the new normal.”

Sophomore Cleve Gosal is involved in three roles in “Our Time.” He worked with a group to combine their spoken word poetry into one, and he also worked on a short film and a one-minute personal testimony.

“Wes is in charge of inspiring us and making sure our confidence stays put. So definitely, it’s something out of the ordinary, but an epiphany for me,” Gosal said.

The title of the show, “Our Time,” is a reference to Thornton Wilder’s award-winning play “Our Town,” which revolves around a small New Hampshire town. In one of Wilder’s scenes, a character talks about a time capsule that is being created. 

“I was always very touched by that because it was like one thing plays do potentially is preserve,” Savick said. 

The show was originally going to be performed outside in Roemer Plaza during the fall semester. Savick’s ambitious idea was to have the actors perform inside the classrooms overlooking the plaza while livestreaming the project onto the Samia building, but the plan was squashed under one of Gov. Charlie Baker’s restrictions. 

However, the semester change allowed Savick to include material from recent student experiences compared to only using stories from the first six weeks of the pandemic. 

Savick was determined to put on “Our Time” this spring because once the pandemic is over, no one is going to want to talk about it, he said.

“This beautiful material from the classroom last spring has a freshness date on it that goes south very soon,” he said. 

Each student piece was pre-recorded with help from video director Kathy Wittman, which allowed for the cast and crew to have more freedom to create a theatrical performance. The nightly performances are set to be about 30 minutes long. 

“Having cameras involved in the theater department this time was such a welcoming experience,” Gosal said.

The department also collaborated with poet Ashley-Rose Salomon to help the students champion their spoken work performances. 

The three-part show will be streamed virtually on Vimeo April 15-17 at 7:30 p.m., and cast talkbacks will follow each performance. Register for tickets here.

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