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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By: Marina Gomberg

When you study at University of Utah College of Fine Arts, you’re not just introduced to some of the finest faculty members on the planet. You oftentimes also get to enjoy the benefits of those faculty members’ vast and esteemed networks, too. 

This was the case with the graduating seniors in the University of Utah Department of Theatre’s Actor Training Program (ATP), who got to have one final guest artist experience with assistant professor, Robert Scott Smith’s graduate school buddy — oh, and Emmy and Golden Globe winner — Jim Parsons.

Smith wanted to provide something really special to the ATP students who are graduating during this global pandemic, and a visit with Parsons was his Big Bang Theory (har har), especially because the two of them had their own experience graduating during a particularly challenging time.

“We finished our graduate work from the University of San Diego after 9/11,” Smith noted. “So, I thought the students might uniquely benefit from hearing how he faced life after school in what felt like a pretty uncertain world.”

In an intimate and invite-only Zoom meeting, Smith and Parsons bantered back and forth about their time together in school, and Smith posed questions to Parsons from the personal to the professional.

 “I think the thickest common thread of our experience to this experience is that it forces you to realize your commitment to what it is you want,” Parsons said, as he reflected on how the world’s uncertainty made him surer of his own drive and passion as an artist.

The two spoke about life in quarantine, protecting art in the dollar-driven business of artmaking, Parson’s work producing the series “Special,” and his works on Broadway, navigating between playing to a camera versus a live audience, the value of being prepared, and handing life when it all feels like trial by fire.

He opened up genuinely about his own personal writing practices, the discovery of his aversion to the business side of the work, and how he overcomes his own doubts and fears.

 “I do think that’s a big part of it, is to understand that fear and uncertainty are the companions — they’re always in the side car. And when you quit fighting them — for me at least — they become smaller, for lack of engaging with them as much. But they also offer their own excitement and mystery, and you learn, sometimes, to let that be the joy.”

After about 45 minutes of what felt like watching two longtime friends catch up in their living room (which even included the recipe for Parsons’ apparently famous Velveeta chip dip), Smith opened the session to student questions, which ranged from the more pragmatic and tactical to philosophical and lofty. Each of the questions, though, was paired with profuse gratitude for the opportunity to hear from Parsons and pick his brain.

It was a big bang, indeed.

Parsons sent one final thought after the call for Smith to share with the students:

"YOU ARE ENOUGH. I think it’s THE most CRUCIAL information I ever received and it means something new and deeper to me with each passing year but, as an actor, I HIGHLY advise saying it to yourself as often as you can remember to do so and until you believe it!"

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