Faculty, student-led plays tackle social justice issues in Zoom productions

Ori Tsameret, Intersections Editor

This Thursday, the Tulane Department of Theater and Dance will premiere REFRAMED 2020: five thought-provoking plays based on the social and political environment of 2020. 

The plays, which vary in seriousness of tone and in content, star Tulane students and will be performed remotely. Directors include Tulane faculty members Jessica Podewell and Jenny Mercein, along with guest directors Sylvia Cervantes Blush, Zhailon Levingston and Lori Elizabeth Parquet. Contributing playwrights include Zury Ruiz and Timothy DuWhite. Among other contributors is actor and Tulane alumnus Jerry Springer, who will appear in the play “Blood Money.”

Each of the play showings is followed by discussions covering a variety of different topics that center on issues of social justice, representation and student perspectives in theater and other performance arts. These discussions are moderated by different members of the Tulane community, ranging from professors in relevant departments to The Hullabaloo’s Intersections editor, Apoorva Verghese.

The motivation for this format of production is two-fold. “One [motivation] was the reality that, because of COVID-19, doing in-person productions wasn’t going to be feasible for this fall,” Mercein said. Beyond that, the festival was also largely influenced by the political unrest of this summer. “We had a great opportunity to use our productions as a way to actively engage with the movements happening around the country over the summer,” Mercein said. Mercein also said her work on “Roleplay” last year confirmed her belief that theatrical productions can be useful tools for sparking important dialogue. 

The creative process of REFRAMED 2020 seemed to thrive on the limited constraints of the Zoom medium. The plays themselves appear to feed off of this format, with three out of five plays taking place on a Zoom or FaceTime call. “For me, and I think this is true of a lot of writers, limitation is super freeing. The idea of a blank canvas is so intimidating,” Mercein said. “If you say to me ‘OK here are the limitations — it has to take place on Zoom, it can be no more than this many characters’ … I thrive with those limitations.”

Social justice is at the core of these plays from start to end. However, the ways in which the issues are addressed and the plays’ tones themselves vary. “Our plays are not right on the nose,” Carl Briggs, one of the actors, said. “All the pieces are different, from the style of acting to the way that the message is delivered to the audience. It will be an incredible experience for all those that get the chance to see them. Activism comes in many forms as it tries to reach multiple audiences. I hope that the audience will take what we are trying to give them and bring it to those who didn’t have a chance to watch it.”

REFRAMED 2020 will be available to watch Oct. 15-18, at 7 p.m. Thursday to Saturday and at 2 p.m. on Sunday. More information, including post-show discussion topics can be found here. Registration for tickets, which are free, can be found here.