By Alexander Osornio, April 27, 2021
This past weekend, the Department of Theatre and New Dance carried the torch for performance art with “Fefu and Her Friends,” its second virtual production of the year, presenting a long-celebrated feminist play to the screens of the Cal Poly Pomona community.
Written in 1977 by renowned playwright María Irene Fornés, the original play is widely recognized for embracing an all-woman cast. The characters, made up of the titular Fefu and her seven friends, gather at Fefu’s home to organize and rehearse a presentation for an education charity.
Throughout the day of their rehearsal, each character delves into conversations surrounding their struggles living as women, such as internalized misogyny, gender roles and loss of control over one’s place in the world.
“Fefu and Her Friends” is also known for featuring an alternative staging format that involved having audiences move from one stage to another to view multiple scenes in different locations with all scenes taking place at the same time.
Guest Director Jessica Hanna noted both of these aspects as part of the novelty of this production, having the cast explore the intersection of gender, identity, class and capability while also playing their parts in their respective homes across different sets to reflect the play’s alternative staging, affirming it as “not an easy play, both to do and watch.”
As each actor performed in their own home, they were responsible for designing each set they performed on, as well as lighting, props, costumes, hair, makeup on top of being an actor.
Cast member and fourth-year acting student, Chelsea L. Sykes, who played the role of Julia, remarked that the virtual format pushes her to adopt multiple positions aside from her usual responsibilities as an actor.
“When you’re at home in your bedroom putting on a play, you are everyone,” Sykes said.
Sykes described having to coordinate with both her fellow cast members and her roommates. One example of this is a scene where Julia hallucinates while resting in bed. Sykes filmed the scene in her bathtub while using multiple lights and a homemade camera setup.
The scene required numerous rehearsals to ensure that each take was well-executed in terms of costume and lighting. This also required her to make sure none of her roommates had used the shower previous to her recording session to guarantee her makeup would not melt off.
These circumstances also gave Sykes and the production team a chance to embrace methods that would not be possible in a traditional production, such as having the camera switch to a black light setup with Sykes wearing glow-in-the-dark makeup.
Other members of the production team spent considerable time workshopping methods to best translate the play to a virtual environment. Set designer Hanalei Vasquez, a fourth-year design and technical production student, had the idea to give each actor a fabric to use as the background when acting alongside the lighting equipment and props. This process also meant that she was not able to set up each actor’s respective set.
“Usually, the actors would not be touching the set,” Vasquez said. “This time around, they were my set crew.”
Actors whose characters were in multiple locations throughout the play needed multiple backgrounds and thus extra effort to make it appear like each cast member was in the same room. This involved having each background only contain a certain section of the room with each actor’s take being stitched together in post-production.
Third-year acting student, Samantha Kernaghan, who plays the titular Fefu, expressed missing the in-person interactions with fellow actors and audience members as she described her virtual acting space consisting of looking at “little pieces of tape on blank walls,” and only being able to hear other cast members through a Bluetooth earpiece.
Fifth-year acting student Julianne Mendez, who plays Cecilia, also shared the struggle of being confined to a limited space while also having to be responsible for ensuring each aspect of her part remained consistent and well-executed.
Despite these difficulties, Kernaghan and Mendez commended the production team being able to remotely bring each actor together for a virtual production and create a theater space that transcended physical boundaries.
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