For our latest reviews, the Young Critics were able to watch recordings of two of the four productions from The Stream You Step In.
This co-production from The University of Windsor and Outside the March is an anthology of original plays commissioned specifically for the School of Dramatic Arts’ graduating BFA students occurring entirely over Zoom. Through the project, OtM is supporting some of Canadian theatre’s pivotal playwriting voices: Elena Eli Belyea, Karen Hines, David Yee and Marcus Youssef.
The shows under review are Thank You for Your Labour by Marcus Youssef and Karen Hines’ The River of Forgetfulness.
Thank You For Your Labour; A Stunningly Relevant Online Theatre Piece By Éabha Phelan
Thank You for Your Labour, written by Marcus Youseff, is a thought-provoking and bluntly realistic piece about the repercussions of forced allyship and performative activism.
In creating Thank You for Your Labour, Toronto-based theatre company, Outside The March, in collaboration with the University of Windsor, have created a relatable and almost immersive zoom-play experience that will have the audience rethinking their approach to modern politics. The play shows three white students, Meghan (Caitlin Jasulaitis), Emily (Alannah Pedde), and Steven (Brennan Roberts), discussing what they plan to do for their University’s concert in solidarity with Black Lives Matter. In an effort to promote diversity they invite their class’s only brown student, Alicia (Elena Reyes), to work with them. However, between high egos, schoolgirl crushes and the battle for political correctness, things quickly begin to go downhill.
In this play, Meghan desperately attempts to be politically correct and almost preaches to her friends about all the things they’re doing wrong. However, in her attempts to be the best ally she can be, she ends up seeming to only see Alicia for her race instead of as an actual person. The play being over Zoom creates an environment where you feel as though you too are in the call and are involved in the awkward tension that is created. This provides an insightful look, in a blunt but impactful way, into how white people can often end up speaking over people of colour and trying to be ‘white saviours’, an issue that is particularly relevant with the largely social media based Black Lives Matter Movement.
While the play’s message is about race, the only character who is overly focused on that is Meghan and all the others have their own, completely unrelated motivations. Emily and Alicia are only there because they’re crushing on each other and Steven just wants to play his song. All the characters, including Meghan, are beautifully developed with complex backgrounds and morals and are not what they appear to be at face value.
Although the ending was rather flimsy, with the song feeling random and forced and there seemingly being no consequences for Meghan’s mistreatment of the rest of the group, I feel that it didn’t take away from the main focus and message of the piece.
Many theatre companies felt as though their passion was being ripped away from them when Covid-19 began to spread like wildfire and the world went into lockdown. In a desperate attempt to salvage our craft we began grasping at the brand-new concept of ‘zoom-plays’, with some creating touching art in ways we had never experienced before and others crumbling disastrously before our eyes. Thank You for Your Labour from director Mitchell Cushman, is undeniably one of the successes of the pandemic.
The River of Forgetfulness or Get me the Fuck out of this Zoom Play – Reviewed By Sarah Carolan
If you are an actor not being able to perform, or you hate logging on to Zoom meetings, then this meandering storyline is for you.
The show starts off with three flatmates; Sammy, who was meant to play Jo from Llittle Women (Sam Cranston), Katelyn, who was meant to play Satan in Paradise Lost (Katlyn Doyle) and Alison, who was meant to play Bill Slank in Peter and the Star Catcher(Alison Adams). They are on separate devises on a zoom call. They start to quote their plays and put on costumes, becoming their characters and talk about how in an alternate universe, without Covid, they’d be on stage. They wait for their friend Caleb (Caleb Pauzé) to join outside their house so he can use their wifi. We learn that Caleb was meant to play Adam in Paradise Lost. When he joins he starts to quote the others’ lines and asks to be let onto the house. The girls realise something is wrong with him as he won’t talk as himself and he hints that he is not human and that the same will happen to them. Taking a twist, Alison reveals that she had been writing a play, explaining the event that follow. The characters face a mix between reality and fiction and not being able to figure out which is which.
As I watched the characters try to puzzle their way out, I couldn’t help but empathise with their confusion, comparing it to the uncertainty during the pandemic.
Even though the play was relatively short, it seemed dragged out. I think this was because of the somewhat confusing story line. Even afterwards I found myself trying to puzzle out what happened. That being said, the way the play was put together was impeccable, all of the elements worked well together to make a very visually interesting piece.
Music played a big role, with an upbeat suspenseful drum playing when the story reached a dramatic point. I think that this was helpful to link the pieces together.
Another interesting technique was the use of multiple devises and a blend of live and recorded scenes. All of the characters had their own computers that followed the action from many different angles. At one point the three roommates interact with characters that looked suspiciously like the three girls. I was completely in awe by how they accomplished this. By using all of the functions on Zoom they were able to apply a video background so they could make it look like they were interacting with themselves.
Though this play had twists and turns at every corner, it’s an amazing example of how Zoom plays shouldn’t be written off, instead should be admired as an alternative art form.
Outside the March- University of Windsor- directed by Griffin McInnes- written by Karen Hines for university students that weren’t able to perform on stage because of the pandemic.
Sarah Carolan 22/05/2021
Thank You For Your Labour – Reviewed by Anna Lynch
Marcus Youssef’s Zoom performance Thank You For Your Labour presents cultural wake up calls to those with idealistic ideas of allyship and solidarity – and should be thanked for its raising awareness of the white saviour complex.
In partnership with the University of Windsor, Outside the March’s Thank You For Your Labour is a refreshing production. It follows the story of four college students as they navigate the perilous subject of race and being allies to people of colour. The beginnings of a new crush and commanding, obstinate friendships also play thematic roles in the play. The online production opens up with two friends, Megan and Emily, as they communicate via the platform of Zoom to prepare for a concert they are hosting in support of Black Lives Matter. As the call proceeds, we are introduced to Tyler who is unintentionally ignorant and clueless. We also meet Alicia, the only person of colour on the call, who is subject to the smothering attempts of allyship made by Megan.
Caitlin Jasulaitis (Megan), characterizes the hypocritical, excessive white saviour of the 21st century. Capturing the spirit of a domineering, dismissive person making many failed attempts of putting everyone at ease, Jasulaitis adds the element of excruciating uncomfortableness, making the performance so memorable. Alannah Pedde portrays the pacifying character of Emily effectively and Brennan Roberts (Tyler) represents the insensitivity of others. Elena Reves embodies the role of Alicia in an undeniably remarkable performance. She plays the difficult role of being the only person of colour in an overwhelmingly white situation, and also accurately highlights the performative activism of the others. This subsequently compels the viewers to debate their own internal views and actions on the matter.
Directed by Mitchell Cushman, the play affords viewers a new and exciting way to view theatre. The production managed to utilise all the features of Zoom, even allowing the audience to choose which part of the story they would like to follow, by enabling them to choose their own breakout room, which was an effective and unconventional way to tell a story. It gave us insight into a tense and hugely awkward zoom call, which felt incredibly realistic, even down to the inside jokes referred to by the characters. The use of music at the end, where all characters eventually performed a piece was a united and unified way to finish the play.
Arguably, the script was at times cringey, perhaps trying too hard to resonate with a younger audience. However, the questions posed – what does it mean to be a good ally? How aware are we of white privilege and its impacts? – cancelled this out by highlighting inadvertent racism and asks us to delve deeper into the misguided happenings of everyday life.
Thank You For Your Labour is an advocative performance, that urges viewers to see themselves in the characters, and is one to watch the next time you’re in the mood for a reality check.