In Lockdown 2.0, DU Players demonstrates resilience

As Ireland has entered into Level 5 restrictions, DU Player’s Seirce Mhac Conghail says, “there is no rulebook anymore”

On Friday October 23rd, DU Players (Players) put on its first Fresher’s Show of Michaelmas Term, Crop Of Freshers, which debuted on Zoom. While the show felt very different from previous performances of the student society, it demonstrated the unique ability of Players to adapt and thrive under the challenges of the pandemic era. 

“Without access to the building on campus, Players has lost much of its capacity to build sets, construct costumes and rehearse.”

Trinity News spoke to Seirce Mhac Conghail, DU Player’s Front of House Manager, about the ways in which Players is adapting to the changing restrictions. Throughout the summer, a time when Players’ Committee is typically organising festivals and planning shows for Michaelmas Term, both nationwide and in Trinity, authorities were frequently changing guidelines and restrictions for social gatherings. Initially, Players produced a programme which allowed for a hybrid in-person and online drama experience. The society planned to reduce cast sizes, maintain social distancing guidelines, wear masks during rehearsal and limit audience capacity. However, by mid-September, with rising case numbers and the onset of Level 3 restrictions, it became clear that in-person performances were no longer feasible. So, Players adapted. Productions have been moved into podcast, Zoom and film-friendly formats. Set design has been limited to the background of actors’ homes. Costumes have become DIY projects. Without access to the building on campus, Players has lost much of its capacity to build sets, construct costumes and rehearse. 

How have these limitations affected the content and quality of Players’ shows? Seirce says that, if anything, the restrictions have only increased their creativity. Coronavirus has not changed the stories Players tells as much as it has changed the way in which it tells them. The visual storytelling tools once relied on, such as lighting and set design, are very limited in the online format. Other aspects of production such as sound design became more important. Seirce co-wrote Player’s podcast adaption of Little Women, a show which demonstrates the changing dynamics of theatre. In this production, sound design and music composition are used for scene transitions and ambience. Likewise, Seirce admits there are some benefits to online productions. Shows are not limited to physical rehearsal spaces, budgets are unnecessary, and the cast has more time to get to know each other during the production process. 

[/pullquote]“Consequently, the nature of what is deemed a show has changed.”[/pullquote]

One of the challenges Players has faced this term is planning. Given that, during key stages in the show planning process, regulations were consistently changing, many shows which were expected to be performed in person had to be adapted to an online format. As a result, some shows were cancelled and others rewritten. Crop Of Freshers, for example, initially two shows, was combined into one and prepared in the eight days before its debut. Co-Op, a 50-person show which is typically produced during Michaelmas Term, is being postponed to Hilary Term with the hope that regulations are more relaxed then. Seirce says: “There is no rulebook anymore”; in order to continue to produce shows, the committee has had to embrace last-minute changes “that normally wouldn’t fly” and remain flexible given the circumstances. Consequently, the nature of what is deemed a show has changed.

This year’s Players committee has already demonstrated its ability to produce quality theatre in an online format with Resilience, a festival which spanned across four days in mid-June. The festival was run on a Tumblr platform, using a multimedia format which allowed Players to have a theatre, basement, gallery and workshop “rooms”. Each day of the festival featured a series of exhibitions with a theme reflecting the time of day: Cockcrow in the morning, Undermeal in the afternoon, Witching Hour at nighttime, and finally, Resilience. The festival featured a gallery which spanned “a broad variety of thematic interpretation as well as use of media” according to Seirce, including “photography, soundscapes and film”. In collaboration with DU Dance, the festival hosted daily dance workshops with a variety of themes. The festival also featured 24 different shows, including two podcast plays, Cordial Summonings and Phantom of the Oireachtas, an Instagram Live musical by Eoin Potts, and a Youtube series by Grace McEntee called Bedtime Stories which featured McEntee reading children stories accompanied with illustrations. Two plays performed at the festival, The Interview,  by Julia Appleby, and Pop-tart by Medbh Hurley, both went to the virtual Irish Student Drama Association festival, earning several nominations and awards, including Best Original Writing (The Interview) and Best Hair & Makeup (Pop-Tart). 

[/pullquote]“‘…something about doing it online made it that much easier and slicker.’”[/pullquote]

Resilience allowed the Players Committee to gain crucial experience in organising online events, which will serve the society well in Michaelmas term. Many of the formats used during Resilience were replicated during Freshers’ Week. Regarding Resilience, “It was something we had never done before which we couldn’t have done in person,” says Seirce. “something about doing it online made it that much easier and slicker.” Samhain, a virtual pop-up festival for Halloween run by festival director Em Ormonde, will benefit from the lessons learned during Resilience, and follow a similar format. Samhain is the first in a series of Irish language pop-up festivals Players is organising this year.

As a means of recruiting new and improving recurring talent, Players runs weekly workshops known as Pips, covering all the areas of theatre making: writing, directing, acting, costume and set design, stage and production management, to name a few. Typically, these workshops are hosted in person, culminating in a Pips production which showcases the skills learned throughout the workshop process. This term, Pips will be run online over Zoom and Pips leaders will be following a syllabus which will result in a large-scale show. To adapt to the current limitations, Seirce suggests that the showcase will once again utilise the Tumblr platform through a more exhibition-style show where Players will use different “rooms” tailored to each aspect of theatre-making. Given that the showcase will be adapted from a traditionally in-person show, “this new format allows the participants to have an equal chance to showcase and celebrate what they have learnt”, says Seirce. This online showcase is planned to take place during week 10.

[/pullquote]“There are no longer limitations for show slots, and Players has expanded its scope as a society.”[/pullquote]

Despite this year’s setbacks, there are a few silver linings in the pandemic era for Players. The online format of productions has increased the opportunity for more students to get involved in productions. There are no longer limitations for show slots, and Players has expanded its scope as a society. Seirce claims that the Freshers have thrived most of all: “Unlike the rest of us, they’re not mourning the loss of a different college experience. This is all they know, and they have been incredibly present, enthusiastic, and resilient. I love to see the same people coming back.” Gone are the days of packed theatres and live performances, but in the meantime, in its corner of Trinity’s virtual campus, Players is continuing its traditions in whatever capacity it can.