Lights! Camera! WiFi! Action!
Fresh off their successful retelling of the holiday classic The Cinnamon Bear, Canby High School Theatre is eyeing a return to the (virtual) stage.
In light of Covid-19, the troupe and new drama teacher Craig Holbrook have elected to invert their traditional schedule for the second half of the academic year. Whereas the Thespians typically produce a large musical in the winter and a series of one-act plays in the spring, 2021 will feature the reverse.
Holbrook is hopeful that improved interventions for fighting the coronavirus, including a vaccine, might allow for some gathering to take place by springtime, at least enough to rehearse and stage a production — even if the audience will still be virtual.
A total of six one-act plays are on tap for later this month — all directed by Canby High School seniors. The plays feature a diverse array of local talent and compelling subject matter and will debut on Feb. 19 and 20 on YouTube. Follow Canby Drama Troupe 632’s YouTube channel to see the latest.
Here’s a sneak peek of what’s to come.
Alien Invasion is a comedy directed and written by Eryn Thorsrud. It tells the story of three aliens who live together on Earth — though none are aware of the others’ extraterrestrial origins. Things take a turn for the worse when one of the characters’ past comes back to haunt them all.
Thorsrud says the initial idea came from a writing prompt she came across on the internet, but the story “came to life” during early quarantine.
“It was a very dark time and I wanted to channel some happiness,” Thorsrud recalled. “I hope those who see my one-act are able to smile and laugh.”
Thorsrud says her favorite part has been working with her cast, which includes Tanner Bedortha, Brynn Spoon, Audrina Brown, Judith Ruiz and Sheila Sterns.
“They have taken to their characters with an unexpected passion,” she says. “It makes me so happy to know that they are having just as much fun as I am.”
Navigating Covid restrictions has been very difficult, she acknowledged.
“I had to cut out some of my ideas because they wouldn’t transfer well to a Zoom format,” she says. “I want everyone to be safe and healthy and I hope the story is still fun to watch even though we are socially distanced.”
Sticking with the sci-fi genre, Artificial Empathy is a one-act written by Hunter Miller, a drama student from Salem. The play observes a scientist, Dr. Lee (played in Canby’s version by Ainsley Beck), preparing to share her life’s work with the world.
The play also follows an inquisitive reporter Lilith (Carter Ward) and a robot called AVRI (Brian Tackman), whose sole purpose as an “Artificial Empathy Bot” is to provide mental health care to its clients. Things go downhill when AVRI starts acting a little too much like a human.
“When I read this one-act for the first time, I was immediately enthralled by it,” director Meridian Lattig shares. “I enjoy opportunities to showcase work from my peers, and Hunter mixed elements of sci-fi and moral dilemma with so much flair. Artificial Empathy is a gift that keeps on giving.”
The play is a collaboration between South Salem and Canby High School. Both Miller, who also serves as assistant director, and Tackman are South Salem students.
“I knew the Salem students and the Canby students prior to the experience, but they didn’t know each other,” Lattig says. “I really enjoyed forging a connection with some other thespians, and I hope this will pave a path for more collaborations in the future.”
Meridian says their favorite part of the process was the cast’s in-depth discussions of the characters — everything from the challenges women face in STEM fields to the moral dilemma of creating sentient life to even such challenging topics as toxic parental relationships.
“I’ve learned a lot from this cast, and I’m grateful for the different perspectives they provide,” Lattig says. “As a first time director, the biggest challenge I’ve experienced is keeping up with my actors. They grow and learn and meld to my vision at an incredible pace! They’re so talented.”
Portland Blood Slam
If science fiction is not your thing, how about a slam poetry monologue in which the character describes their strange encounter with a mysteriously alluring fanged woman, who takes her through the “wild” side of Portland.
Such is the plot of Portland Blood Slam, directed by Cousteau Lattig.
“The main character’s monologue is a social commentary that brilliantly depicts Portland’s wackiness,” Lattig says. “This will be an exciting and intense one act, and I am very excited to debut Kanoughn as Portland Blood Slam‘s ‘Young Woman.'”
As soon Lattig read the monologue, she knew she had to produce it.
“It is the perfect mixture of comedy and grit,” she says. “Slam poetry is a format that I have always been interested, so that definitely impacted my choice. It also makes the one act very unique.”
Her favorite part of the experience is collaborating with others.
“My one-act, because it has one actor, is very intimate,” she says. “That intimacy gives my actor and me more room for creative collaboration.”
¿Que Tú Qúe?
Finally, Itavi Stearns is directing a Spanish one-act play called ¿Que Tú Qúe?, written by Maria Gabriela Mendez. In the author’s words, ¿Que Tú Qúe? is an unfortunate confession of love when a boy confesses his feelings to his childhood friend.
“It’s bittersweet, but sure to bring in many smiles and laughs at home,” Stearns says.
She chose this play, a Spanish-language production, because she wants to break down language barriers in the arts and “build unity within our Canby Spanish- and English-speaking communities.”
“As a student director, I really wanted to create something that I could share with my family and friends,” she says. “As I was thinking about this, I thought, ‘If English were not my first language, how would I share it with the people I love?
“‘If my parents were not native English speakers, how could I involve them in something so passionate and dear to me as theater?'”
Stearns believes the arts, particularly music, dance and visual performance, can break down language barriers and build bridges across different cultures.
“This journey has been very personal to me and members of my troupe who are Hispanic,” she says. “We want to give back to our families who have supported us on our theatre journey as well as encourage our Hispanic and Latinx friends and family to join theatre and the arts.”
Other productions on tap include He Said She Said directed by Elizabeth Hanthorn and starring Autumn Solomon, Stephanie Haynes, Tyson Driver and Marrisa Oswald; and Sindication, directed by Katrina Garrett and Shelby Winkel and starring Lee Hepler, Skyler Milano, Gabe Baker, Hannah Sasek and Candice White.