By Miriam Trujillo
The Rome School of Music, Drama, and Art released its digital version of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure on YouTube on April 23, and it was definitely one of the most intrepid productions the Catholic University has ever seen.
Intrepid is a word that always applies to CUA’s performing arts students. While the rest of the campus has the time to catch a break on a Saturday night, resting and relaxing from classes and internships, performers are committed to hours of evening rehearsal. Anything can go wrong with the amazingly detailed productions that students have the pleasure to see in Hartke Theatre, but the performers have to take it all in stride. No matter what goes wrong, they still have to work and make the show better than it was the last night.
In light of the pandemic and online classes, the entire campus of CUA is catching a very long break, suddenly wondering what happened to those classes and internships. Still, CUA performers have to keep working hard, making a digital show into a work of art.
The digital Measure for Measure, available on the Rome School’s Youtube channel, is delightful considering the circumstances. Rather than being a read through, where the cast members sit in their respective living rooms and log into Zoom, the aesthetic of the show makes use of the unusual “production design”. The actors are costumed, out of the resources of their own closets, according to character. Jewelry, colorful makeup, unique hairstyles, and statement tops all come together to make the characters unique and memorable. The actors playing religious characters are especially creative, as a typical grey hoodie is turned into a convincing friar’s habit. Actors still make their entrances and exits, as characters disappear and reappear off the screen.
Somehow, the number of ever changing Zoom boxes make for a genuinely dynamic and engaging set. With this new blocking, the characters are able to literally face off, line up, and domineer over each other depending on where their picture is on the screen. These subtle suggestions of hierarchy and conflict are incredibly eloquent, and would not have been possible if the actors are onstage. The age of modern technology does have a few original lessons to teach us after all. Each act is set off with a time lapse photography sketch of the set as it changes, and an announcement as to where the play is taking us now: a prison, a court of law, the possibilities are surprisingly endless. Each scene change is accompanied by its own snatch of a jazz song, a kind of soundtrack to give the play momentum and allow the home-bound audience to forget their surroundings.
In this particular show, the stand out performance is that of the group work. The cast, sitting in their own isolated living rooms, never cease to lend some light and life to what would have been a two-dimensional production. Their tenacity and exuberance is what makes this experiment really work. If anything, there is a real advantage to seeing Measure for Measure’s performers so close up. We finally get an intimate enough view to realize just how hard they are working, and just how intrepid it is to continue with theater in the age of a lock-down.