Although Professor Stefan Novinski of the drama department is accustomed to directing the University of Dallas’ mainstage production in the fall, he is now facing the unique and unprecedented challenge of directing a play in the midst of a pandemic.
Though Novinski and his cast of UD students faced unforeseen difficulties due to the new and ever-changing safety regulations of COVID-19, they decided to proceed with the Shakespearean play “’Love’s Labour’s Lost’ at UD.” They embarked on the “uncharted territory,” as senior actor Ann Urbanski put it, of a Zoom production.
Sixteen green screens were built and each cast member received a camera and a microphone to use in their own living space. From there, the cast tackled new challenges like varying internet speed, interrupting roommates and even pets.
Senior actor John Muncy attested to the unprecedented task of a Zoom production. “It was a long, hard road, with a lot of technical difficulties and frustration, but in the end, we came out all right,” Muncy said. “Our situation wasn’t ideal, but it was a good experience for us all to have because it brought us together, and I think it’s an experience that we won’t forget anytime soon.”
Despite the distance between them throughout the production of the play, Urbanski described her experience as a “fun and crazy project.”
“This type of a production is really the only way right now to ensure everyone’s safety and include remote students,” she said. “It’s been a challenge, but I’m so excited that I got to be a part of the production.”
Senior actor Pedro Barquin said, “ Zoom, as I have discovered, is a large barrier that requires a lot of effort to break through when it comes to theater. You have to really push on words and pay close attention to your face and your eyes. It’s like acting in front of a mirror except it has to be good.”
Aside from the new arena of a completely virtual play, the director and cast felt an overwhelming urge to “build community despite COVID creating distance,” as Novinski put it.
The play is set during a fictional Charity Week, so it will be shown the week after this year’s actual Charity Week, according to Novinski. Beginning Thursday, Oct. 29, the play will be broadcast at 8 p.m. every night through the weekend on Zoom. The chat will be open so viewers can communicate with each other during the broadcast.
The mix of the broadcast production, the open chat and the UD-centric element of the play will allow students, alumni and faculty to “find plenty to look back and laugh about, and prospective students may get a peek into our school culture,” said Barquin.
Novinski said of the unique use of technologies in his production that he “hope[s] it engages everyone to want to be a part of the event and it builds community around seeing it.”
With so much thought and care put into the UD-focused storyline, the script and the production of the play, the director and cast managed to create and film a light-hearted, UD-oriented version of “Love’s Labour’s Lost” by William Shakespeare over the course of a week.
When asked what led him to choose this particular play, Novinski explained, “We hadn’t done Shakespeare for three years. ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost’ is one of Shakespeare’s earliest plays, and it begins with four young men who decide to forsake the world by giving up talking to girls, food and sleep, and only study philosophy for three years. Into that world comes four girls. I decided that sounded like a bunch of UD guys, doesn’t it? Four guys who decide, ‘We are only gonna study philosophy for three years.’”
From there, Novinski, with the help of his knowledgeable cast, incorporated specific elements of UD life, culture and traditions into the basic storyline of Shakespeare’s original play. “Basically, there’s a UD reference about every minute and a half,” Novinski said.
“The production will be a love letter to UD. It explores the wonderful, confusing time of what it means to be an undergraduate and figuring out, ‘How do I both devote myself to philosophy and studies, but also to developing relationships and possibly finding a mate,’” Novinski continued. “It’s an exciting, confusing period in your life.”
Novinski described how he fused UD and Shakespeare together, saying, “The four guys [of our version of ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost’] are RAs in Theresa and the girls are in Greg. They’re fighting over something because apparently dorms feud with other dorms and they steal stuff from each other. So the guys meet the girls and fall in love with the girls, but they have to figure out how to woo the girls, but not break their oath [of only studying philosophy for three years]. The subplot is about pretentious grad students and a love triangle. It involves mistaken letters being passed back and forth between people.”
Junior actor Charlie Mihaliak summarized the struggles of bringing a play to life over Zoom, while also using it to bring people together for the love of Shakespeare, and moreover love of UD.
“Working over Zoom was challenging, but ultimately rewarding. Over the past few months, we have taken a deep dive into Shakespeare’s text and found so many little moments of brilliance within the work. Ours is fast-moving, light-hearted and sentimental,” he said.
“Professor Novinski selected an excellent production and my fellow cast-members have worked extremely hard to make it come to life,” Mihaliak continued. “I cannot wait to share the final product with you all!”