The Power of Theatre During a Pandemic

In search of an innovative performance to fulfill your theatre deprived Covid life? Look no further, “Late Night Staring at High Res Pixels” has got you covered. At the start of the pandemic, I never thought I would ever be satisfied until everything was back in-person, and I was sitting in my seat at the theatre, waiting for a show to commence. However, “Late Night” has completely changed my mind. The show dives into the issues of consent, complicity, and control towards women.

The performance consists of a combination of monologue and dialogue revolving around an unnamed man. Interestingly, the man is almost always the subject of conversation, but he is never seen. Instead, the audience is immersed in the perspectives of two women: 1 (the girlfriend/ Evelyn Lockley) and A (the friend/ Athena Stevens). The show starts with the man sharing 1’s topless photo with A (without consent). The toxic behavior and manipulation only spiral downhill from there.

Episode 27, “Shame”

Stevens’ play, directed by Lily McLeish, was initially meant for the stage but has been repurposed into 28 bite-size chunks for online viewing. The performance resembles a Netflix show, which draws you in, and suddenly you find yourself binging all 28 episodes in one sitting (at least if you’re anything like myself). The show vastly expanded my definition of theatre. A show does not necessarily have to be performed on a premium stage in front of an audience. “Late Night” demonstrates how theatre can be and is created right from one’s own living room and different areas of your home. Theatre and film blend as the use of camera angles becomes a critical part of this performance.

McLeish successfully directed the show with only one actor and the show’s lighting designer, Anthony Doran, ever being physically in the same room during filming process (the others were on zoom). The viewers get a thorough look into Stevens and Lockley’s separate homes and their wardrobes, out of which the designer, Anna Reid, composed the costumes. The show was filmed all on an iPad. Doran explains in the post-show Q &A how they had to get creative with the set-up and prop up the iPad using whatever available, ranging from anything from a stack of books to a pile of toilet paper!

Episode 19, “F**king Fairytales”

“Late Night” does an exemplary job creating a sense of community during this difficult time of isolation. Statistics show that the pandemic has been very hard on relationships. Even moving beyond relationships, simply being a witness to someone else’s struggles, gives you a sense that you are not alone in these challenging times. At times it even feels as if the actors are talking directly to us like on a FaceTime call, creating a real intimate community bond.

Although the relationship between theatre and community is one of great contestation, “Late Night” demonstrates significant positive factors, which Emine Fisek touches on in her book, Theatre and Community. Fisek explains how community can be “a necessary strategy for enduring the alienating effects of modern life” (5). I think individuals have never felt as alienated as they do during Covid lockdowns, confined to the walls of their home, which is why this “crucial tool for survival in times of distress” is needed now more than ever (4).

Trailer: A on the left, 1 on the right

Intimacy and Binge-ability

I’m not going to lie, moving our trip online was kind of disappointing. The rest of life has already moved online; lectures, shopping, even family gatherings have been over Zoom. I always viewed the best way to experience Theatre was with all of your senses. With it being distanced online, I did not know what to expect, yet, also had high expectations. Everything is online, so how will this be different? How was Kim going to make our trip something more unique than what we could find on google ourselves? Just when I began to doubt Kim, she introduced us to Late Night Staring at High Res Pixels.

Late Nights is a new play that was repurposed for online viewing. It tells the story of two women, A and 1 from their perspectives in 28 short episodes. Late Nights consists of A and 1 giving monologues describing how they are connected through their relationship with an emotionally abusive man who the audience never sees. The Finborough Theatre describes Late Nights as exploring “the issue of assumed consent and how it contributes to a culture of complicity and control towards women. Men have long held power in relationships with tools that have no name; this story aims to identify those methods”. 

A in red and 1 in yellow

Each episode is filmed in one location for each actor with one camera shot. Sometimes a couch, sometimes on a floor of a room in the women’s homes. Everyone involved in the production was over Zoom, with the exception of the lighting guy. My favourite location is the washroom where the audience can only see 1, the girlfriend’s feet. I was able to emotionally connect with 1, without seeing her face, just hearing her voice and seeing her moving feet. This scene just emphasized the power of the whole show, personal intimacy within the topic of controlling women. That washroom shot felt relatable as it’s an experience I have of sharing a deep chat in the bathroom with a friend. The scene created an intimate connection between 1, A and myself. Late Nights does not need to hide behind big budget sets that come with a spectacle. It was minimal in every choice and Athena Stevens and Evelyn Lockley’s talent shone through. Theatre is not about being the flashiest. I was able to focus on A’s and 1’s physicality and feelings driving the plot. 

The feet (Episode 3)

Their costumes mirror each other, when one wears blue the other pink, their background and lighting also show their link to each other. Having multiple episodes allows for the multiple costume and location changes that continuously show their link. If an in person show had that many costumes, that would be a lot of quick changes. Late Nights shows there are more possibilities online that would be impossible in person. With social media today exploding with creative content, this performance sets a new path. Platforms like Youtube, TikTok, and Snapchat have introduced a range of bingeable videos in the shorter time span. The 28 episodes of Late Nights, allows for binge-ability or for an audience to take their time while maintaining raw and heart wrenching. It keeps up with the modern, under ten minute clips of social media and focuses on the writing of these two women’s relationships. It’s subtle and I was completely drawn in.

Adrenaline Junkie and the Competition

I was delighted to join Destination Theatre this year. From the sounds of it, it combined two of my favourite things, theatre and travelling. I was disappointed to hear our physical trip was cancelled due to COVID. I was looking forward to meeting new people and getting hands-on experience in the theatre world in England. However, we will still get some sort of online performances and workshops. I know we are not travelling but getting any available learning is great. 

I have been in love with theatre ever since my grade five drama teacher introduced me to Shakespeare. I loved the idea of taking words off a page and becoming them. Words that may not be funny but because of the way I said it, they were. I loved the rush of feeling those emotions with the audience. I was hooked on the act of storytelling, and making people feel something. From there I began taking acting classes and camps, falling deeper into the rabbit hole of performing.

I started competitive gymnastics when I was five years old, and acting felt similar to competing. I enjoyed the attention, applause, and the rush of adrenaline. Also being the competitive kid I was (still am), part of me enjoyed knowing that people liked my performance the best. In gymnastics, to win you needed your routine to be the best technically. Being cast as a character became a new routine where instead of flipping, the new skill you practice is being someone else. Instead of feeling my own stress and nerves in competition, I felt someone else’s emotions.

After gymnastics, I was a competitive cheerleader. As a team sport, it taught me how to trust others and to hold myself accountable. The line “There are no small parts, only small actors” you really start to understand when you have to throw a girl in the air. Even if you are doing the heavy lifting and not the flyer, it does not mean you are any less important. 

Most of my theatre knowledge stems from majoring in Musical Theatre in high school. Although I have extensive musical knowledge, I have minimal exposure to plays and other forms of performance. Other than the plays I watched in high school, and the few my parents took me too, I did not see many. Being in the theatre studies program at Western, I fear that my lack of traditional theatre knowledge will hold me back and that my ideas will not be good enough. As a fourth year, I have taken as many theatre studies courses as I can and yet I still sometimes feel discouraged. I hope destination theatre allows me to break out of that view. I did not have to be in theatre studies or have a theatre background to sign up for this class. I know that this course values having different backgrounds of discipline and that shapes everyone’s experience of the theatre they see. My experience is unique just like everyone else’s. As much as I would have loved being in England, I am glad we still get some portion of online Destination Theatre. It is still an amazing experience and I am so excited.

(Hairspray 2017)