After a year of virtual shows, the Performing and Media Arts Department’s fan-favorite event — Festival 24 — recently made an in-person comeback. At 7:30 p.m. this past Saturday, students returned to the Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts to wait in line in hopes of securing a seat for this live theater event.
Festival 24’s fourth Zoom performance during the pandemic looked a bit different, but it was no less entertaining. Festival 24 is part of the Performing and Media Arts Department’s semester tradition, written, directed and performed virtually this semester and last. Students have just 24 hours to write and produce a play.
“There was a cabaret and there was a master of ceremonies and there was a city called Berlin in a country called Germany. It was the end of the world…” So writes Cliff Bradshaw, the starry-eyed American novelist whose search for love and adventure in 1930s Germany frames John Kander and Fred Ebbs’s Cabaret. In the haze of the Kit Kat Klub, a haven for stockings, lipstick, and high-heeled performers, Berlin is in full-view, beautiful in its celebration of self and doomed by the rising political waves that would ultimately engulf Europe. Ithaca College’s production of Cabaret was an astounding success, executed with masterful design, orchestration, choreography and particularly amazing talent. Designed to bring the audience into the nightclub, with red “Ausgang” signs, dim lights and the orchestra dressed as a cabaret band, Clark Theatre brought the tantalizing Kit Kat Girls and Gals as close to the audience as possible.
When the trailer for NBC’s new series, Rise, popped up on my news feed a few weeks ago, I cursed Facebook’s advertising algorithm and made a mental note about the pilot airing date simultaneously. I mean, a show about a high school theater troupe putting on Spring Awakening, starring Josh Radnor (How I Met Your Mother) and Auli’i Cravalho (Moana) and produced by Jeffrey Seller (Hamilton)? It practically has my name written all over it. So naturally I had high expectations going in, but I also worried that Rise might fall into the dangerous trap of clichés. And I believe I was right to a certain degree.
What did you do in the 24 hours starting from Friday at 6:30 p.m.? A group of students were creating something incredible from scratch. Festival 24, which started in 2008 with only theatre productions, recently added film and dance performances to showcase the work of other students in the Performing and Media Arts department. Festival 24 challenges students to produce a story from a one-word theme in 24 hours. Playwrights stayed up all night to write a 10-minute play.
“Maybe it’s a fact we all should face / everyone makes judgments based on race”. This lyric, from the musical Avenue Q, was one of the first things that popped into my mind as I walked out of Smart People at the Kitchen Theatre — a play that delves unreservedly into the difficult, yet ever so relevant conversation of race, prejudice and, most importantly, our fear of that conversation itself. Written by the award-winning playwright Lydia R. Diamond and directed by the talented Summer L. Williams from Company One Theatre in Boston, Smart People is wildly funny, gripping and remarkably thought-provoking at its core. It dares us into the daunting task of thoroughly reevaluating ourselves and the world around us. With an innovative opening sequence involving projections of various news headlines and the voice recording of Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign announcement, the play unfolds around four main characters: Brian, a white neuroscience professor at Harvard who has dedicated himself to finding a neurological explanation for racism and prejudice; Ginny, Brian’s fellow psychology professor at Harvard who studies and counsels Asian American women suffering from anxiety and depression; Jackson, Brian’s best friend, a black surgeon in residency; And Valerie, a young black actress who participates in Brian’s study and later works for him as a research assistant.