Students create new play that tackles tech issues

Bar scene

A standard theater production begins with a script.


            The seven students in this spring's Communication and the Arts theater production, however, started with nothing. No script. No set. No costumes. Not even characters, actors or directors. Not even an idea.


            The spring production, “7 Smart Spaces,” which will open at 7:30 p.m. April 5 in the Studio Theater in Blaisdell Hall, was built from scratch by Dr. Kevin Ewert, professor of theater, and the students in the class.


            The first step in creating next week's show was to come up with an idea around which to build a play.


            “We decided that we wanted to think about technology and how it affects us,” said Chukwuemeka “Meka” Anammah, a freshman from Leesburg, Va.


            This is the third time Ewert has worked with students to create an entirely new piece. In two earlier productions, the students began with a seed provided by Ewert. In 2011, Ewert and his students set stories by Edgar Allan Poe in different rooms of what was then the Seneca Building. The audience traveled from scene to scene.


            Two years ago, the students interviewed inmates at the Federal Correctional Institution - McKean and devised vignettes inspired by their discussion with the inmates.


            “It is definitely a new trend of company-created work,” Ewert said of the devised creations, which give students new ways to hone their skills in storytelling, collaboration, editing and analysis.


            The students will present seven scenes involving technology. They occur in “smart spaces” physically created by seven platforms depicting a bar, a park, a nursery, etc. In each scene, technology enters the picture as something that hinders communication and human connection instead of improving it.


            The scenes include Anammah as a bartender and Michelle Michali, a freshman biology major from North East, as a patron waiting for a date whom she “met” on a dating app. As she explains how the app's algorithm works to find her the perfect date, it becomes clear that the bartender is the one with whom she has real chemistry.


            In another scene, new parents stress over reports generated by their smart changing table - one that weighs their infant and emails their pediatrician with the baby's weight and growth charts.


            The students wrote the scenes as a team, sometimes without any guidance from Ewert, such as when weather prevented him from making it to campus.


            Playing a part that you helped create is “a lot more like being yourself” than learning lines for a character created by someone else, explained Jayden A. Pire, a senior writing major from Oswayo.


            After the actors perform each scene, Ewert asks the rest of the students what is working in each scene and what is missing. By repeating the process of performing and editing, the group honed the script and directed the performances.


            Other students taking part in this premiere production are Christina Brunecz, a senior biology and interdisciplinary arts major from Bear Lake; Chijoke Louis, a freshman from League City, Texas; Brittany Minugh, a senior history-political science major from Ludlow; and Kylie Schuman, a junior interdisciplinary major from Allegany, N.Y.


            Additional performances of the show, which runs about 45 minutes, will be a special lunchtime showing at noon, Friday, April 6; 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 7; and 2 p.m. Sunday, April 8. Admission is $2 for student and $6 for adults.