Virtual Buffalo State play focuses on timely topic

At a time when theaters across the globe have gone dark because of the coronavirus pandemic, one troupe, Casting Hall Productions at Buffalo State College, has found a way for the show to —safely — go on.

A group of 15 student actors and 14 crew members, under the direction of assistant professor of theater Jonathan Seinen, are virtually presenting "Mother C," a dystopian tale written by Ansley Valentine. It is an adaptation of the 20th-century classic "Mother Courage and Her Children."

Viewers can see the live-streamed play at 7 p.m. Dec. 3-5. Tickets are free for Buffalo State students and $5 for the general public, can be reserved at https://bsctheater.anywhereseat.com/channel.php .

Written in 1939 by the German dramatist and poet Bertolt Brecht Mother Courage and Her Children is a chronicle play of the Thirty Years’ War and reflects the playwright’s opposition to Nazism taking over Europe in the 1930s. The 90-minute Mother C focuses on a businesswoman and her children trying to make a living as civil unrest unfurls across the country in modern times.

“Mother C is incredibly timely; it speaks to the here and now of 2020 America,” Seinen said. “The Black Lives Matter movement that swept the country following the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and how peaceful protests met resistance from police and the National Guard, make the urban unrest that Valentine presents in his play feel closer than ever.

“The play poses the question: Who do we become in these times? What values are we going to practice and pass on to the next generation? Mother C is a warning that in times of conflict and division brought on by systemic oppression, recognizing our interconnectedness is a necessary step toward healing and change.”

To create a safe environment for rehearsals that began in September, the theater department created booths in Warren Enters Theatre to separate the students and recorded the action via webcam. This alternated with rehearsals and filming over Zoom. However, over the last week the department decided to move all filming to Zoom, with students performing in their homes, in response to escalating coronavirus cases across the region and country.

“We followed our intention to put safety first in all we do,” Seinen said, adding that the in-person rehearsals helped students to connect with one another and enhance their remote performances.

“It’s amazing what you are able to capture in a Zoom performance,” he said. “You can still feel the actors connecting with each other and telling a compelling story.”

Buffalo alumni also contributed to the play as an American Sign Language coach for the one character who is hearing impaired and with video and sound production.

“It’s a unique way of presenting a play,” Seinen said, “and certainly new for me.”

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