Fall Play: “The 146 Point Flame”

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Eli Austin, Staff Reporter

There is something special about seeing live theatre. As an audience member, one feels in the moment, like they are actually there as a passerby seeing the events unfold. This magic is a keystone feature of theatre, and it makes going to a play or musical a deeply personal experience. Unfortunately, this is made increasingly difficult due to the current state of the world. Covid-19 is forcing performing arts around the world to answer hard questions about how to put on a meaningful and impacting production without a live audience.

In the case of DHS Theatre, the first production of the year will serve as a testing ground for the future of DHS productions under the pandemic.  This year’s first Fall Play is a production of “The 146 Point Flame,” which retells the story of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory through the eyes of four young women. The production has been filmed entirely in the courtyard at DHS, making the process much more difficult for both the actors and the crew. The two leading minds for this production are Mr. Clack, the head of stage crew and the technical wing of DHS theatre, and Ms. Crowley, the director. 

One of the most vital parts of theatre in the new medium of film is the directing. Ms. Crowley has been working tirelessly to work out the details of the production. She stated, “In terms of ‘The 146 Point Flame,’ what we are doing is filming each individual actor saying his or her lines, and then we are going to create the piece. So it is somewhat of a process like a film. But we are trying to follow many other theatre companies in the United States that are thinking of this not as a film, but how to take theatre and put it in this space.” Having to act to a camera is one of the major changes not only to DHS theatre, but to theatre around the world. In this sense, the upcoming plays will have to adapt to a film environment while still being a work of theatre. Ms. Crowley further states, “And with so many things with the pandemic, we long for the world that we knew. But we don’t have that world right now. So we have to do what we can do.  And what we can do is continue to find compelling ways to tell stories. And I am so proud of the work that the actors have been doing because it is difficult to do. I know as a teacher; it is difficult to teach on a screen, and it is difficult to act on a camera.” This new medium of film could even enhance the quality.  In losing a live audience, DHS theatre is trying to compensate with clever editing and a variety of digital effects. Yet, directing has also produced a great deal of challenges. Ms. Crowley says the most difficult one is, “The rehearsal room is an area of experimentation and freedom, expression of vulnerability. We are doing this in community. It is a safe space, where people can try things. They can be too emotional, or not emotional enough. As they are trying to find the best way to tell the story. It is really challenging to help an actor do that from across a screen.”

Speaking from the technical side, Mr. Clack was optimistic about the digital production of “The 146 Point Flame” despite many difficulties ahead of him. The best way Mr. Clack could express how stage crew is functioning under the pandemic is, “Really what we are doing is building an airplane while we are trying to fly.” When asked about the most challenging part of stage crew for this production, Mr. Clack said, “For myself, I think really large. As a scenic designer, I like to build really big stuff. But with film, you can’t really do that.” For “The 146 Point Flame,” there is only one set which is rather simplistic, with a black backdrop and a couple pillars made to look like burnt wood. This is opposed to Mr. Clack’s usual set designs. Yet this has also had an impact on stage crew students, Mr. Clack believes their greatest obstacle was letting go of some traditions that they hold dear. He expresses, “In the art form of theatre, we have a lot of traditions. We are an old, old art form and it is based on a lot of tradition. The hardest part for the students is not the change or the learning of new technology, I think that part has been easy for them. The hardest part for them is letting go of some of the traditions and some of the flow of a season.” 

The first Fall Play has not been easy for DHS Theatre. It has presented many obstacles to overcome. However, with the help of both actors and stage crew under the guidance of Ms. Crowley and Mr. Clack, “The 146 Point Flame” is shaping to be a truly passionate and touching production.