Following the in-person cancellation of its annual Adaptation Festival, or AdaptFest, due to campus closure, student theatre board Lovers & Madmen will release two original radio plays on SoundCloud.
AdaptFest typically consists of three staged readings of plays written by students that have been adapted from classical works. When the University announced campus would be closed due to COVID-19, L&M had to rethink the festival’s format.
“Our main purpose as an organization is to produce classical works and adaptations, so AdaptFest is the culmination of our mission,” said L&M’s outgoing Literary Manager Ilana Abusch. “This year, we had to be a little creative.”
Carrying, an adaptation of Homer’s Odyssey and Dear Ophelia, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, will be released on SoundCloud on May 29 and June 5, respectively. Inferno, an adaptation of Dante’s eponymous epic poem, which was part of this year’s original AdaptFest lineup, is planned to be staged in person in the fall.
Communication sophomore Pallas Gutierrez submitted a 10-page sample script of Carrying to L&M last spring. After their play was chosen to be staged as part of AdaptFest, they spent the summer finishing a draft. They said hearing their work in a radio play format will inform their writing as they continue to work on the play.
“It’s been really awesome for me, personally,” Gutierrez said. “As a staged reading, I was really focused on developing the script and getting people to listen to it and not be distracted by staging. Which is not to say staging isn’t valuable, but to be able to just sit down and listen to it is really helpful in my writing process.”
Communication sophomore and Carrying director Samara Malik had to navigate the challenge of adapting (pun intended) to a virtual format. She said her original ideas for the play included building a cyclops out of music stands and using wardrobe changes to distinguish between different characters played by the same actors. These elements had to be reworked to transition to an audio format.
“It was just a lot of looking into theme and trying to understand intention more, and working with vocal intonation to make it feel more full,” Malik said. "It was a big learning curve as we’re used to having a very equal balance between voice and physicality. If an actor can smile, you don’t need to say that they smile, but in this case knowing that no one was seeing anything was a big hurdle to jump over.”
Although the process required a set of skills that the actors did not have previous experience with, Malik said they were enthusiastic about participating.
“Voice acting is a totally different skillset from physical acting, and it’s something that none of us really trained in before,” Malik said. “[The actors] were really gung-ho about it — every moment, even when they made mistakes, was a learning moment, and they were so positive. I was really lucky to have a cast of people who weren’t afraid to take that risk.”
Gutierrez emphasized the importance of preserving classical work through events such as AdaptFest.
“I think a lot of people, including myself, underestimate the power of old work because the canon of plays has a lot of problems. There’s a lot of old, white men who didn’t include anyone else in their stories,” Gutierrez said. “We do need new work, but I think it is also important that we recognize what we owe to people who came before us, and that we wouldn’t be able to do new things in theatre without old things in theatre.”
Abusch thinks the fact that AdaptFest is continuing despite the challenges posed by campus closure demonstrates the resilience of the Northwestern theatre community.
“Nothing can stop student theatre on Northwestern’s campus,” Abusch said. “These artists have persevered through so much to bring these stories to life. This community is so strong and so supportive — the art being done by students on this campus is simply extraordinary.”
Carrying, written by Gutierrez and directed by Malik, will be released on SoundCloud on May 29. Dear Ophelia, written by Olivia Worley and directed by Emma Yarger, will be released on June 5. More details will be available on Lovers & Madmen’s Facebook page.