Graduating Actors Training Program students found some inspiring ways to finish their performance final amidst the societal upturn of Covid-19.  The students produced a live, online Zoom production of an original retelling of the classic play, Oedipus Rex, streamed from their own homes. We asked recent ATP graduates Ireland Nichols and Harrison Lind how this experience unfolded.

Q: What made you decide to use Oedipus?

Harrison Lind: We were interested in the echoes that Oedipus Rex already possesses concerning a seemingly unstoppable virus and negligent leadership. We ultimately decided to rewrite the entire script into our own original adaptation, Oedipus Re(du)x, to more closely reflect the current socio-political climate we find ourselves in. We pulled quotes and comments directly from modern leaders, news anchors, and public forums to ground our work even further.

Q: How did the Zoom coordination work?  

Ireland Nichols: I found the Zoom coordination to be tricky, yet surprisingly satisfactory. There were so many voices to constantly navigate online, even with just 10 people on a zoom conference. The challenges we faced were via virtual and simply unavoidable; I think because of that and everything already going on in our lives, we as a class made it a priority to make sure individuals felt heard during rehearsal, to collaborate our ideas equally and share as openly as one desired, and to also delegate other responsibilities such as logistics or edits to rewrites, without overwhelming ourselves. I found that the collaborative, “unified front” served well in execution. Not only were individuals able to hone in on skills not normally accessible when cast in a show, we were creating something from a limitation we didn’t even know existed 4 months ago. I had classmates flexing mad writing skills, other classmates directing and taking on the roles of the creative team whether that was sound or the framing of each character’s camera. In the end, I’m madly proud of my class and what we accomplished, I’m proud of the world we built around our newly written text, and I’m proud the message we wanted to send went far deeper than the story of a conflicted, old man.”

Q: Any advice for creating your own online content?

Harrison Lind:  Find the holes in the (online) system! Limits can sometimes lead to incredibly creative solutions, but creating online content can sometimes be TOO limiting. Constantly ask yourself how you can bend, stretch, and surpass the limits that platforms like Zoom place on your content creation. 

Q: How does this online process differ for an actor?  

Harrison Lind: Losing scene partners was one of the most difficult things to handle. More than half of an actor’s job is to listen to their scene partners, and when you’re dealing with poor audio or not even being able to see your scene partners at all, so much of that connection is lost. I found myself checking out more easily when I wasn’t physically in the space with people, and it took more effort to create sets of imaginary circumstances for myself.  

Harrison Lind completed an internship with Pioneer Theatre Company, appeared in their productions of Mary Stuart and The Play That Goes Wrong, and had the opportunity to tackle the title role in Tartuffe at the U. He also performed in productions of The Rivals, Big Love, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Love’s Labour’s Lost during his time in the ATP.

Ireland Nichols was last seen as Athena in The Odyssey and appeared in performances of Men on Boats, Loves Labour’s Lost, and The Seagull during her time at the U. She was also in Salt Lake Acting Company’s production of The Wolves and in her internship with Pioneer Theatre Company she understudied the title role in Mary Stuart.

The ATP Seniors send out a special “Thank you” to all the faculty for their support over the years.

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Nicholas Dunn graduated from the Actor Training Program in 2007 which led him to an extensive resume on and off the stage. A few highlights include acting on stage with Pioneer Theatre Company and on film with Magnolia Pictures, playwriting featured at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland, script coordinating for HBO, and owning a film production company titled Overcranked Pictures LLC. 

While Dunn continues to create impressive art he inspires students as an adjunct instructor for the Department. Did we mention you don't need to be a Theatre major to take one of his classes? We caught up with him to discuss how the U impacted his career and what advice he would give to our recent graduates. 

How did you get into film?  

I started auditioning for films and commercials while in the ATP, and right after my internship at Pioneer Theatre Company ended, I was cast in a feature film in a role that would give me four consecutive weeks on set. I loved every second of it, but found as much as I was exhilarated with the acting opportunity of every take, I was also drawn to what was happening behind the camera. In fact, on one particular day, I was hanging out in video-village and having a great conversation with the script supervisor. She was walking me through what she does and the techniques she uses. The Assistant director had decided to throw a few more members of the cast into the scene (we were a baseball team, and they needed more of us in the shot for a rousing speech by the coach) and I chose not to be the in scene so that I could stay behind the monitor and watch the Script Super work. It was an early indication of where my interests truly were. Over the following years, while still doing commercials, film and theatre jobs, I started to learn the ropes of filmmaking. I participated in the Salt Lake Film Society's Screenwriter's Workshop, their Digital Director's workshop, and worked Sundance venues. Eventually, I went back to grad school for Playwriting and Dramatic writing.” 

How was the idea sparked to create a film company with fellow adjunct faculty member, Matthew Whittaker?   

As luck would have it, right out of the ATP, I met Matt on the set of that same first feature film. Matt also has quite a bit of theatre experience and so we were fast friends. I was getting very into screenwriting, and had made a couple of short films, and I had expressed to a few friends my desire to create a production company as an avenue for producing my own stuff. I was teaching a filmmaking class at the University of Utah Youth Theatre with Connor Rickman, another U of U alumn, and we entered a filmmaking competition hosted by the Salt Lake Downtown Alliance and we won! The cash prize gave us a fair amount of seed money, so we finally formally incorporated. Matt had been working on a number of video jobs already, so it made sense to join forces with him, and that's ultimately how Overcranked Pictures came to be what it is today.” 

What do you most enjoy about teaching?  

I really can't express how much I love teaching the acting classes I get to teach each semester. To be honest, the more work I was doing in the film industry, the less acting I was doing, until I stopped pursuing auditions all together. And I didn't miss it. But teaching these classes has reminded me of what brought me into the artform in the first place, and has rekindled that fire. Last year I acted in two plays with Pinnacle Acting Company and had an excellent experience. So I'm getting back into it. More than anything else, I love connecting with the students and having discussions about the human condition, and exploring empathy and the dramatic story behind every human. Seeing it click when we connect the artform with their personal experience is very rewarding and gives me a lot of hope for the future.” 

What advice do you have for recent grads?   

Don't wait for anyone to give you permission to do your art. We hear so much about how competitive the industry is, and how rejection is just part of the job. True enough, but we currently live in a world with greater access to each other than any time in human history. We all carry in our pockets technology that indie filmmakers would have killed for only fifteen years ago. With platforms like YouTube and Vimeo, formats like webseries and podcasts, the ability to share a story is literally boundless. So while you're grinding it in audition after audition, hook up with other dedicated artists and do your craft. Always be practicing it, always be studying it, and always be sharing it.” 

Dunn will be teaching Acting for Non-Majors next year and to see all of our classes offered to non-majors click here

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