After the University moved classes online, four student-led theater groups — the Black Arts Theatre Company, LAB! Theatre, Company Carolina and Pauper Players — were uncertain of their next steps. By Company Carolina’s suggestion, the four groups supplemented their individual plans for the fall with a virtual series of stage readings, one-act plays and student-run performances.
Both Hannah Fatool, artistic producer for Company Carolina, and Maria Cade, executive director of productions for Pauper Players, said one of the reasons the groups decided to collaborate was to centralize UNC theater for first-year students.
“It’s kind of confusing already when we are producing in-person for the first-years to understand everything that's going on. And so we thought if all four of us were hosting our own events and putting on all our stuff, it would be overwhelming,” Fatool said.
While this collaboration offers a stark difference from the typical two to six productions each company produces a year, it has offered unexpected benefits.
Cade said the costly bill of performing a copyrighted play, such as "Mamma Mia!," is often leaned out by ticket sales, but each company still has to cover the remaining tab with fundraising.
So when it became apparent that no in-person productions would be performed this year, the collaborative adapted with little dismay.
“We decided there was so much talent at UNC and so much creativity," Cade said. "And during this time, artists professionally and non-professionally are struggling to get their work out. So we thought it would be an amazing idea to highlight student-written words.”
The collaborative is accepting submissions of student-written works of varying performance mediums to be included in the virtual series this fall.
All performances will be entirely run by students, opening new roles beyond performer, actor and playwright. Members are also stepping into their debut director and producer roles, positions that often are not accessible until much later in theater careers.
The collaborative and respective UNC student theater groups invite students to push the envelope on upcoming work and want to acknowledge pressing issues as they open up the necessary space for change in the UNC theater community.
“Truth be told, I think the way to solve any issue is to invite everybody to the table, and that’s what we hope to do with the collaboration,” LAB! Executive Director Anish Pinnamaraju said.
The collaborative acknowledges that to have a truly inclusive theater environment at UNC, members must feel valued and that their input is important.
The fate of the spring theater season remains uncertain, but the virtual collaborative is excited to grow its audience beyond Chapel Hill, work with the next generation of directors and producers and bring members' stories to computer screens this fall.
“Theater isn’t dead to say the least," Pinnamaraju said. "We are just finding new way to not only keep it alive but make it thrive."
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