Four shows, no stage: Student theatre cancelled
Washington University’s decision to close campus for the remainder of the semester—revealed to the student body over Spring Break—was hard for everyone. It meant online classes, scrambling to get to a permanent residence and suddenly being far from friends. It also meant that student group events had to be canceled.
This spring, four student groups were scheduled to produce plays. Now, none of those plays will be produced. The first of those, Thyrsus’ production of Shakespeare’s play “Titus Andronicus,” was scheduled to run last weekend, March 27-29.
Thyrsus co-president and director of “Titus” senior Hannah Dains received the news in an email to all student group leaders sent out shortly after the campus closure email. “I was immediately devastated, feeling that all of the hard work of everyone involved in this production was suddenly all for nothing,” Dains said. “Both Thyrsus Board and the cast of the show started pouring out sympathy and appreciation for the experience of working on the production, which was really heartwarming. I definitely cried and had ice cream for breakfast that morning.”
Dains said she had been wanting to produce “Titus” for years. “I’m really interested in how the play considers the relationship between power and violence, and I knew that Thyrsus would be able to stage the show with a level of intimacy and immediacy that would really drive home the messages of the play.”
Now, that play will not happen. However, Dains did not rule out the possibility of Thyrsus producing “Titus” again in the future.
“Because so many people were involved in the production, some of them graduating, there are a lot of factors going into figuring out what our next steps could be,” Dains said. “We’re hopeful that there’s an opportunity to showcase everyone’s hard work in some form.”
But Thyrsus is not the only student group forced to cancel a performance, and they have the added advantage of Shakespeare being in the public domain. Cast N’ Crew (CNC), whose play was due to run the weekend of April 2, isn’t so lucky.
CNC had planned on staging “Don’t Dress for Dinner,” a comedy by Marc Camoletti. CNC president senior Lia White said “We loved how funny this show was. There’s a lot of miscommunication and physical humor and heightened emotions and it’s just so much fun to watch.”
“This production felt really good,” White said. “it was starting to come together really well. I was so excited to see it performed and to share that experience with everyone in the group. It’s hard that we’ll never get that back.”
White didn’t read the email right away—they found out through a text from their stage manager. “It was devastating,” they said. “You pour all this hard work and dedication into a production only to have it ripped away from you so close to the finish line.”
Though plans are not finalized, White assumes that CNC will not perform “Don’t Dress for Dinner” next year.
“Theatre is such a unique experience in that you can never get back a performance. It happens, and then it’s gone. Even though we never performed this show, you can never get that original experience back,” White said. “You have to move on as an organization and have new experiences with other shows.”
Still, that doesn’t mean CNC is entirely done with the play. “We’re trying to do a staged reading of the show, just to give us some closure. We want to give people the feeling that they still worked towards something, even if it’s not the product they expected,” White said.
All Student Theater (AST)’s spring production presents an additional challenge—their play, “Mild Mannered Man: The Musical” was written by seniors Anne and Roman Accardi. As the Accardis will graduate this spring, the group doesn’t expect to produce the play in the future.
“Mild Mannered Man” is, in the words of co-writer Anne Accardi, “a superhero comedy musical about a very plain and boring accountant named Timothy Wisdom who gets recruited to become a superhero’s sidekick, just because his name sounds so cool.”
Accardi decided to write the musical with her brother after writing most of a novel during an internship last summer. They adapted the book into a script and composed the songs, all for fun. “We did all this before having a plan to actually produce the show—we just wanted to write it. But then we decided that since it was our senior year of college and we had a fully-written show, it might be cool to try to put it on in some capacity.”
At first, putting it on meant producing it themselves, with friends acting the parts. But the Accardis decided to pitch “Mild Mannered Man” to AST, which selected it as the spring production. “That was super exciting, because they had a lot more resources and connections in the WashU theater community,” Accardi said. “It was going to be a much more fully-fledged production.”
“It was really awesome to see the production come together,” Accardi said.
AST production manager senior Mona Jahani said “Rehearsals for this show were super fun. Everyone was really excited and committed.” The show was scheduled to open on April 9.
That all came crashing down on March 11.
“My immediate reaction was just shock. I felt that there must be an answer that I just wasn’t thinking of that would allow us to keep going with the show. Ultimately I just felt a deep sense of loss and sadness for the fact that we would have to cancel our production,” Jahani said.
For Accardi, that meant her only chance to see her play performed was gone.
“Frankly, it seems unlikely that we will produce the show at a later date. AST is more than welcome to produce the show without Roman and I if they want to,” Accardi said, adding that it “seems doubtful” either she or her brother would be able to be involved.
Seniors Hayley and Taylor Emerson also submitted an original musical to be considered by AST. When they weren’t chosen, the sisters decided to produce “Twins the Musical” themselves, through a group the Accardis started: Center Stage Productions.
“Twins the Musical” has been a part of the Emersons’ lives for a long time. They produced the first draft of the show at their international high school in Berlin in 2014 and again as a workshop performance in 2016. “That was when this show became legit in our eyes,” Taylor said of the original 2014 performance.
It’s also very related to their lives. “Twins” is about a set of American twins, one of whom moves to Berlin, who try to figure out their identities, both individually and as twins.
Though they had always wanted to put on “Twins” while at Wash. U., time was quickly running out. Before their senior year, they realized it was now or never.
“We realized at this point, if we wanted to actually produce the musical at Wash. U., this would be our last chance,” Hayley said. Although cut short, the process of producing the musical was incredible. “These were the most amazing couple of months, working with this cast and crew. As exhausting and stressful as it was, it was rewarding in every way.”
After the first email regarding Wash. U. coronavirus guidelines, Hayley said she “was already preparing for the worst.” When the campus closure was announced, “Taylor and I were speechless…not only thinking about our senior year, this musical, not saying goodbye to friends, but also thinking about the other senior shows that were supposed to go on this semester…It was a surreal and emotional moment.”
“The last rehearsal we had, I called the whole cast so we could officially finish blocking, and we did. So in a sense we had closure with the show,” Hayley said.
Despite the Wash. U. production’s early cancellation, this isn’t the end for “Twins.” Both sisters have jobs in the entertainment industry beginning in the fall, and depending on how things go this summer, Taylor said that they hope to stage a production in LA this year.
Aside from the loss of the productions themselves, the theater groups are also suffering from the loss of time together.
“The group is really social, so I think the quarantine is hitting us hard. This is typically the time where everybody comes together and bonds really closely, and we’re missing that,” White stated.
Jahani agreed. “Going online for the rest of the semester has been difficult, because the performing arts are traditionally so dependent on being able to get people together in one space, so being distant from one another feels very limiting in what we as a group can do.”
For some, the campus closure brought not only their semester, but their time at Wash. U. to an abrupt halt. Accardi, the Emersons, Dains, White and Jahani will be graduating in May, and thus won’t be returning in the fall.
“It’s especially hard to be a senior. This was my last show with a group that I’ve been a part of since the beginning of my first year at Wash. U. All your years are supposed to culminate with that final show where you cry with your friends and you reminisce and you share those final memories. Instead we’re all stuck in our respective homes trying to video chat to try to make up for it,” White said. “This is my home, my community, my best friends. I wanted more than anything to share that final show with all of them. And now I can’t.”
Jahani echoed her sentiment. “It’s been especially devastating as a graduating senior who has been a part of AST since my freshman year to not get the chance to have a final experience with this group.”
“Being seniors was a huge part of why we wanted to produce the show in the first place—we had some more flexibility in terms of academics this year, and we really wanted to make our last year special by throwing ourselves into this creative endeavor that we cared a lot about. I was super excited about the show and it was probably the part of my senior year that I was most looking forward to,” Accardi said.
That meant the loss of the production hit harder, but Accardi said she is still happy the production got as far as it did. “Since we’re seniors the cancellation felt really final since, like I said, I don’t think we’ll get another opportunity to put the show on. But I had a truly wonderful time working on the show, and I’m still really happy we tried to produce it.”
“It’s a shame we didn’t get to see this show through until the end, but in theater communities, it’s the journey that matters just as much as the night the curtain goes up,” Hayley said.
“All we can do is move forward,” Taylor said. “I think we’d be crazy to let this drop now. Looking ahead, it was the best decision we made to put up our musical this semester because it showed us both that truly when you put your mind to something, you can achieve it (except when the Coronavirus gets in the way).”
Still, the time apart doesn’t mean the groups don’t connect with each other. CNC is working on their staged reading of “Don’t Dress for Dinner.” Center Stage Productions will cease to exist in the fall. However, members came together one last time to paint the Emersons a canvas filled with their appreciation for the group. Hayley said she and Taylor were “practically sobbing over each other when we opened it.”
Thyrsus is still working on their applications for new board members for next semester, and they also will continue to hold their playwriting competition, Thyrmpetition, this spring.
“Right now, Thyrsus Board is taking time to regroup and stay productive while all of our business and meetings are conducted online, and that mostly means focusing on promoting these two upcoming big events,” Dains said.
Jahani said that though AST hasn’t discussed an alternate spring event, she assumes there will be something. “Given that our group’s mission is centralized around producing a spring show, I’m not sure what else we would do.”