Performance Review and Next Steps!

Back in February, when we produced ROSE for audiences at the Cannon Street Arts Center, we had the pleasure of receiving a review from Michael Smallwood, a local actor, writer, and creator who reviews the arts for the Charleston City Paper and who is also father to an amazing child who accompanied him to the show! With the onset of COVID-19 a few weeks later, our review unfortunately never made it to publication. However, Michael has given us permission to share it with you. Here it is:

This past weekend, I got to attend a performance of That Which We Call A Rose [TWWCAR], a devised theatre piece about space exploration and the cosmos that ran a limited slew of shows at the Cannon Street Arts Center. The project is a collaboration of students, alumni, and faculty from the College of Charleston to create an educational piece of theatre for elementary school students. And I took my three year old daughter, because there would be puppets.

TWWCAR was presented in two parts, focusing on different celestial bodies. The show I saw on Saturday was The Moon and Bennu. The story follows three space explorers (played with exuberance by Jenny Bettke, Javaron Conyers, and Nick Brown) as they head towards the distant planet Europa. They are sidetracked by a representative of the Consortium of Women Cosmographers and sent on a mission to rescue tardigrades from Earth’s moon. Later, the asteroid Bennu puts the Earth in danger, and it’s up to the intrepid explorers to deal with the threat. Bettke, Conyers, and Brown are great and striking the right tones throughout. They have a command of the performance style necessary to engage children, and had the audience hooked right away.

The production design is simple lights and backdrops, certainly designed to travel easily to schools. The play makes effective use of various kinds of effects and media to present its story. Puppets abound, ranging from traditional Punch-and-Judy to Bunraku-style full body pieces to simple one-handed birds. The before-mentioned tardigrades and the leader birds on the asteroid Bennu are highlights.

Television screens are used for mission briefings and to provide educational backstory. The timing of everything is commendable, and the actors are able to play off the video bits quite well. But some of the filmed sections run a little long, especially at the beginning of the piece, and end up throwing off the momentum that the onstage performers have set. A lot of information needs to be presented to the audience, but the long video packages full of dense exposition dumps could have been handled differently. There are effects and puppets in the videos that I wished could have been presented live, so that they matched the onstage energy present.

My daughter is younger than the intended audience, so she didn’t pick up any of the scientific information, but she was entertained by the performers and loved seeing the puppets. There’s a lot of scientific information, and it’s so dense that I wonder if it all may be too much at once for even the oldest elementary students. Because it covers so much information (Earth environmentalism, feminism, astrology, mythology, etc.), the plot can often be lost in the many many details. As it continues to evolve, director Vivian Appler may consider trimming down some of the heavier expositional moments to allow the story to keep a cleaner focus. All said, it’s an interesting project with a ton of promise that could prove incredibly useful for students of all ages.

– Michael Smallwood

Thanks, Michael!

As we adjust to theatre-making in the age of COVID-19, our focus has shifted to the digital realm. We are exploring options for refining TWWCAR as an interactive, educational performance in a safe and socially-distanced manner. The format of Phase 2 is still in the works, but we are excited for the creative opportunities that this new challenge brings. Stay tuned here for more updates on future content and interesting tidbits of space news!