Acting Class of 2020 Showcase Screens Virtually
BY Robbie Armstrong, November 6, 2020
The 2020 MFA Actors Showcase is available for online viewing, following a large pivot in production. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the Actors Showcase was less than a month away from opening at Signature Theatre. Associate Professor James Calleri devised a masterful plan to film the Showcase performance for the acting class of 2020 for the first time ever. The result is a culmination of their artistic growth during their three years of study at Columbia. Alumna and Showcase performer Anya Banerjee ’20 praised the production, saying “There is a real warmth and connection there, even between scene partners…I’m blown away by the work that we as a class have been able to produce against all odds.”
The Acting Showcase includes all 14 actors in the 2020 MFA Acting class, and features 15 unique short scenes, including one piece penned by Associate Professor David Henry Hwang. In the Spring, Director Cynthia Silver met with each pair of actors in person and rehearsed each scene. Production took a long pause and then picked back up in July, socially distanced and online. I served as the Production Stage Manager for the Showcase, and began reaching out to the actors, and organizing a month long film shoot.
The reinvented Showcase required actors to film from their own homes and nearby outdoor spaces. Each actor was sent a film kit which included lighting and sound equipment that could significantly augment the film quality. Our Director of Photography, Adam Elder led technical workshops so the actors could manage the equipment and become their own film crew on set. All scenes were shot on iPhones, with the help of the actors’ loved ones and FiLMiC Pro (an app for filmmaking). The showcase was filmed across the country and internationally, with actors performing with their scene partners, from miles away. “The skills that we learned through the Theatre program translated smoothly onto this medium,” alumna Banerjee ’20 shared. A regular film day would be a 6-hour shoot. The team spent the first hour setting up the film space and equipment with an actor, and then began shooting one actor’s shots. After lunch we set up for the other actor and shot their portion of the scene. Each day ended with a complete scene.
The actors more than ever were active collaborators in the process: selecting costumes, setting up the set and props, managing film equipment, and performing pieces that they’ve been developing for months. “One of the biggest things I learned about this process is to trust your collaborators,” alumnus Brian Patterson ’20 shared. One of Patterson’s scenes involved filming outdoors and the weather played a significant factor. Alumnus Othello Pratt Jr. ’20 shared his gratitude for the showcase: “I spent 3 years studying the craft of acting and what it takes to be present. Showcase was an opportunity to share what I’ve learned with a new awareness of the present life behind the camera.”
Particularly impressive, was the actors’ ability to make these scenes real, while delivering their lines to another actor who was on Zoom, sometimes across the continent. In “Blood At The Root,” alumnus Christian Goodie ’20 is standing outside of his home in Los Angeles while Robert Barlow ’20 is inside a Vancouver apartment, and with brilliant performances and a few filming tricks, it looks like they’re right in front of each other. In “Paradise Blue”, Pratt filmed from a Harlem home with a brick wall background while alumna Owala Maima ’20 filmed from Texas with a brick wallpaper. Alumni Titus VanHook ’20 and Peter Calvin Atkinson ’20 had to maintain the escalation of their intense argument in “Bedlam,” from Maryland to New York. Even when alumna Roberta Ahrens ’20 sits across the bed from alumnus Jon Robin ’20 in “Seduction Communion, you would never know that Ahrens was in an Ottawa home while Robin was in a New York City apartment. Many of the actors served as assistants to each other too, including alumna Yeena Sung ’20 who was behind the camera for the break dancing talents of alumnus Jae Woo ’20 in “Trying To Find Chinatown,” alumnus Clayton McInerney ’20 who filmed alumna Anya Banerjee ’20 in a dramatic New Year’s Eve party scene from “Other People,” and alumnus Hal Miers ’20 who was the camera operator for “Middleman,” which he filmed with with Sung.
The Acting Showcase can be accessed here and below is a list of the production credits.
Trying to Find Chinatown, by David Henry Hwang
Paradise Blue, by Dominique Morriseau
Middleman, by Carly Mensch
Blood at the Root, by Dominique Morriseau
The Seduction Community, by Greg Keller
Bedlam, by Zayd Dohrn
Pilgrims, by Claire Kiechel
Good Grief, by Ngozi Anyanwu
Aubergine, by Julia Cho
The Motherf**ker with the Hat, by Stephen Adly Guirgis
Collapse, by Allison Moore
Other People, by Christopher Shinn
The Other Guys, by Adam McKay & Will Ferrell
Love, by Judd Apatow, Lesley Arfin & Paul Rust
Detroiters, by Zach Kanin & Joe Kelly
MFA Acting Concentration Head: James Calleri
Director of the Acting Showcase: Cynthia Silver
Director of Photography: Adam Elder
Production Stage Manager: current student Robbie Armstrong