Against a black background, the Zoom screens of eight performers light up one by one. They each recite a sentence of the opening monologue on personal freedom as they commence the Theatre-910 Identity production of “Behind Our Masks and Screens,” directed by Denise Taveras ’21.
“The whole point of this identity show is that people get to see another layer of people’s identities that you don’t share out loud. Since a lot of us were at home… people were able to see some people’s homes [and] the background of their rooms. We were like ‘oh what is going [on] behind your screen and who are you behind your mask?’” said Taveras.
The annual production centered on the cast’s exploration of their identity. Through community building, individual work, and free writing, the “Behind Our Masks and Screens” cast explored their vulnerabilities through monologues, which ultimately worked together toward creating the larger production.
“The thing that we’re scared about was that sometimes it’s hard to feel that vulnerability if [the audience is] not in the same space [as] the performer, but we tried to find a way to make it personal so that it feels more like a conversation and so that when people share their pieces, they don’t feel [like] they were just talking to a screen… We wanted to make sure that everyone felt they were putting their voice out there for someone to hear them,” said Taveras.
Echoing these difficulties posed by distance and remote learning, performer Victoria Ortiz ’23 also reflected on how their collective bonding experience was affected. According to Ortiz, the cast’s mutual respect and support fostered a safe online environment, which reflected in the success of the final production.
“If one person has enough courage to share whatever because they wanted to, our support kind of pushes the next person to be ‘Ok I can do this’ and so on and so forth. It was all a very collective experience towards trusting each other,” said Ortiz.
According to Taveras, she was mindful of this aspect of the virtual setting, so she scheduled one-on-one meetings to work individually with performers. Aiming to facilitate and protect the authenticity of the performers’ stories and experiences, Taveras also adjusted her own role as the director.
“I didn’t have everyone do a bunch of dramatic movements or have a bunch of dramatic lighting because sometimes when you’re talking about something that’s very personal, that makes you very vulnerable, so you don’t want these other things to act as fluff around you. You just want to say and feel and make sure that is authentic to yourself, and that definitely affected my directing,” said Taveras.
Having performed in last year’s Theatre-910 production, Taveras strived to shape this production while deriving inspiration from her in-person experience. According to Ortiz, Taveras goal stabilized the normalcy of this year’s production, and provided the experience that she hoped for.
“I think a lot of her performance experience helped because she knew what should happen ideally if we had been in person. She was very keen on approaching it as if we were in person, then adapting it for the virtual environment, which I think was very helpful. We felt supported and encouraged by her actually caring about all of us,” said Ortiz.