Features From the Online Theatre Gallery

This year, Gustavus’ theatre gallery has morphed into an online short film screening. Typically a stage performance, students from the “Special Topic: Devising Performance” class have adapted this tradition to accommodate COVID-19 restrictions, resulting in the 2020 online theatre gallery.
It features six short films written and directed by students, including senior Miranda Johnsen, an English and Scandinavian studies double major, and sophomore Sam Peters, an English and Theater double major. Within the six short films, each student had one special project that they wrote by themselves and directed using student actors.
The first special piece is called “Andromeda,” and is written and directed by Johnsen. In essence, it is about a person falling in love with someone who ends up dying in a black hole.
“It is a story about a newscaster who is stuck in this sort of time loop as she reports the news and is actively trying to stop it from happening, and that news is about this group of astronomers who traveled to the black hole at the center of the Milky Way to conduct scientific research,” Johnsen said.
She had been thinking about the piece for about a year and showed excitement talking about it. Her inspiration for the film is based on anxieties she has about space, time and relationships.
“The film that I have made is quite abstract I would say and has a lot of […] thoughts about anxieties I have not just about space, which is terrifying, but like time and relationships, and grief,” Johnsen said.
Among other things, the film experiments with lighting.
“I love playing with lighting. I wrote a whole academic paper that is in the process of getting published about how characters internalize their trauma, and it gets reflected in the lighting and how changes in lighting from color tone to intensity reflect inner turmoil, and I had a lot of fun playing with that,” Johnsen said.
She says she has been influenced by Martin Scorsese’s “Shutter Island,” Robert Zemeckis’ “Contact” and Lilly and Lana Wichowski’s “Speed Racer.”
The second special piece is called “In Bloom,” written and directed by Peters. It is a story about an artist and how he struggles with his anxieties.
“Basically it follows a young man named Ezra. He is a graduate student in art history, he’s an artist, a visual artist, and a painter. […] So it takes place during the pandemic, which is kind of the theme throughout. Ezra is kind of this isolated recluse who lives in a small apartment. […] He develops this kind of friendship with a little plant […] and during his interactions with the plant, we get to see kind of the very intimate side of his inner thoughts and feelings that he doesn’t express in the outside world,” Peters said.
Peters took a lot of inspiration from not only current times with COVID-19 and the call for isolation, but also the fears of being judged by society and suffering from mental isolation and loneliness. The film calls attention to a person’s anxieties and how they might cope with it.
“Going into the project was this idea of isolation that I think has been exacerbated by the pandemic […] something [isolation] that is very much present in the modern world that […] has been certainly brought out by the pandemic. […] This idea of this character who shows his true self to the audience, but not to others in his life. […] So I had this idea that he had this really close relationship with an inanimate object that he could tell his dreams and aspirations to and not feel like he is being judged by society or judged by others,” Peters said.
Being fairly new to filmmaking, directing the film was a very different experience, especially given COVID-19 guidelines. However, even with all these constraints, Peters found the experience to be fun, experimenting with lighting and dealing with the transition from stage plays to films.
Peters found his film to take bits and pieces of various elements of different kinds of movies and describes his film as “realistic drama.”
The online theatre gallery will be streamed online at 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 4 and at 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 6.

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