A Theatre Thesis During COVID-19

Senior Kieran Andrews performs in Rhinoceros for his thesis

Kieran Andrews is a senior theater major and the lead actor in the theater department’s production of Rhinoceros. His performance as the main character, Bérenger, is part of his thesis research. Andrews sat down with Quest writer, Betsy Wight, to discuss Rhinoceros and his thesis.

What is your thesis? What does it look like? And what kind of work are you doing for it? 

Kieran Andrews as Bérenger in Act I of Rhinoceros. Graphic Courtesy of the Reed College Theatre Department.

Kieran Andrews as Bérenger in Act I of Rhinoceros. Graphic Courtesy of the Reed College Theatre Department.

Physical theater, the thing I’m studying, is really, really, based in being present in a space with other people. A lot of the actual technical exercises and techniques—the warm ups that you do before you go out on stage before you rehearse—a lot of them involve being in a room with other people. And so not being able to be in a room with other people means that I just can’t do a lot of those exercises. So it’s become a much more solo process, which is to be expected in this world. Another thing about [Rhinoceros] is… a lot of what we’re doing isn’t live. Act Two has a large photography component [and] it’s really different when you are trying to act in a single frame… It’s really interesting to explore, especially with Theater of the Absurd [which] has a tendency to use tableaus and images more than poetic language to describe things. [So I’m] forcing myself to condense my acting into what can be captured in a photo and beyond that, what can be captured in a photo when I am holding a Bluetooth clicker to take the photo… I have to palm it behind my back so it’s not physically in the photo as I’m trying to stumble backwards. It’s a major, physical challenge but that adds to what Theatre of the Absurd is about.

Have you worked on thesis productions before? Is it different when you are the thesis student? What is it like working with other students on Rhinoceros?

Well, it’s certainly different. The play that I worked on before was called Late: a cowboy song, and it was a senior who graduated two years ago, Rosie Tabachnik ‘19. It was their thesis and… I was acting and they were the director. So the relationship was very much out of an actor and director. Not only were they a senior and I was a sophomore — and they knew a lot more about the department and Reed than me — they were literally my boss in a very specific way. What’s strange about this production is that I’m an actor, [so while] I might be a senior… and many of [the actors] are first years, I don’t have any authority over them, which is a super different experience. [The theatre department] just sort of gave me this role as part of my thesis research and so there is sort of a weird dynamic of, yes, I’m a senior, yes, this is my thesis, but… when I’m doing a scene with [someone], we’re just actors. I’m not special… we’re just going to treat each other like we would in any other production. At least that’s what I’ve tried to really embody and get across.

Theatre productions tend to foster a lot of community between everyone involved but that’s difficult right now. How have you built community among those working on Rhinoceros?

Well, there’s very minor things because we’re in a format where we are connected digitally, there’s a lot of like, “my cats in the room, do you want to see my cat?” and then someone tilts their camera, and you get to see their cat. That’s really lovely… Other than that, we’ve organized… in-person events that were simply everyone going out to the Great Lawn, sitting six feet apart, and actually getting to see each other in person. It’s really strange after you’ve seen each other on Zoom for so long to be like, “oh, you’re really tall. I didn’t know you were that tall.”

One of the things we realized we needed to build in [was social time]. Usually, you take breaks in theater a lot… and during those breaks, usually, you go and chat with all the people in the cast and crew who are there. But in this format, you can’t really do that… Most people just turn off their cameras and go get a drink of water or do the things they need to do. So we realized early on that we should be including weekly time, like 30 minutes in Monday rehearsals, where we’re just chatting, and anyone is welcome to come even people who aren’t called to the rehearsal that day. That definitely was an active decision on the part of [Associate Professor of Theatre] Kate Bredeson, our director, to say we need to take extra effort to foster community in this weird world we’re in.

Act Three, released Nov. 20, was filmed. What was that experience like?

It’s really the strangest part of this… [There are] three characters in the act, but we obviously can’t be in the same room. So we built a set in the theater, and the set has three cameras facing it. Each of the actors goes in by themselves, and acts the scene out alone on the set, while the other actors and director are on zoom… We’re going to cut together the camera angles, so it’s the idea of like, “okay, while I’m sitting here, I’m only visible in camera A so we can put Dudard on camera B and Daisy on camera C and cut between them like that.” …I’m just staring at an empty chair, trying to pretend I’m talking to a human being, which is bizarre, utterly bizarre, but really a fun experience.

Produced by Kate Bredeson (director) and Caitlin Cisek (scenographer), Rhinoceros by Eugène Ionesco, translated by Martin Crimp, is currently available to view at reed.edu/rhinoceros.

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Peter C. Stockman
Peter C. Stockman
2 years ago

Super article and an equally super graphic. Please, please: more graphics from this source!