6/01/2020 Alicia Morrissey

The Show Must Go On: 'Imagined Performances' Honors What Might Have Been

This story is part of our #FandMArts series documenting how the campus community continues to bring the arts to life in a virtual setting.

Taking place in Gran Colombia in the not-too-distant future, “Policarpa” by Diana Burbano tells the tale of a “nightmare world [that] exists in a neither here-nor-there” infested by an inexplicable plague. As described by Burbano, Policarpa—a girl with magical gifts who falls in love with a top government official—finds herself resisting the allure of becoming a creature of destruction and instead seeks to become a savior through sacrifice.

In ironically similar circumstances, students in the Theatre, Dance & Film class "Production Studio" found themselves, like Policarpa, sacrificing in the face of a real-life pandemic. They were four weeks into rehearsal when production ceased due to COVID-19. These students, who had poured dedication, creativity, and heart into this production, would never see it come to life. 

Fortunately, the spotlight had not gone out on this production. With the rest of the College courses moving online, Rachel Anderson-Rabern, assistant professor of theatre, had an idea: Why not move "Policarpa" online as well? She called this endeavor “Imagined Performances,” an idea inspired by her friend and colleague, Daniel Sack, and his book and open-source journal, “Imagined Theatres.”

“It occurred to me that, because of our swift shift to digital learning and experience, imagined performative spaces have become opportunities to honor what is as well as what might have been,” Anderson-Rabern said. “Imagining possibilities together, like the experience of sharing space in a theatre together, has the potential to be a powerful collective act.”

The imagined performance site is rich in imagery, giving the audience a glimpse at the stunning butterfly wings they would’ve seen on stage. Kicking off with a note from the playwright, Burbano, the site then delves into the work the crew did behind the scenes to prepare for the show—how the crew established ambiance via set design and sound production, notes from the actors on preparing for their roles, and more. 

  • "Policarpa" "Policarpa"

Though Policarpa's performance was not able to fully come to fruition, Anderson-Rabern said the process was “very real, rigorous and underway.” 

This real, rigorous process held many lessons for students. In addition to the nuts and bolts of theatre (Where is stage right and where is stage left? What is a call time?), the students encountered lessons they never expected.

Shanay Jones ’23, a student in the course, was looking forward to performing in Policarpa. The play would’ve been her first production.

“I put in all this time and now people won’t get to see the final product,” Jones said. Upon hearing the idea of the imagined performance, she felt “it wouldn’t be the same.” But after giving herself time to reflect, she embraced the imagined performance as a way to keep the production alive. The experience has taught her some valuable lessons, she said: Everything happens for a reason; hard work never goes unseen; and it's always best to seek the good during difficult situations.

“I didn’t envision for the production to come to an end so early, but through ‘Imagined Policarpa,’ my hard work didn’t go to waste,” she said. “‘Imagined Policarpa’ allowed for our work to be seen—just in a different way.” 

  • Students in the class TDF 385: Production Studio Students in the class TDF 385: Production Studio

Anderson-Rabern's vision of creating this space also helped the students honor the work of the unrealized production.

“As student responses to the Imagined Performance begin to filter in, I notice that it is meaningful to them, to have their work and this story presented in some small way,” Anderson-Rabern said. 

Anderson-Rabern invites others to join her in creating Imagined Performances of their canceled productions.

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