Art News

Denver Students to Perform Play About Pandemic Losses at World’s Largest Arts Fest

Denver School of the Arts students during a live rehearsal of re:Action.
Denver School of the Arts students during a live rehearsal of re:Action. Shawn Hann
Denver School of the Arts (DSA) is going back to the world’s largest arts fest, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. It's the students' first trip to the festival since the start of lockdown.

Every four years, DSA students have the opportunity to perform at the festival in Edinburgh, Scotland, and it's become a rite of passage for many. With most COVID-19 restrictions lifted, the students are ready to blow the audience away with their new play, re:Action, inspired by their own pandemic experiences, and have begun fundraising for their trip.

“At an early age, I loved theater. It was a way for me to escape real life. Having an opportunity to perform in front of a different audience [in Scotland] is very meaningful to me. The trip is an amazing opportunity but has monetary restrictions,” says Gabriel Warner, performer and script writer of re:Action.

In addition to the performance in Scotland, DSA will present the play on Friday, May 20, at the school's Schomp Auditorium at 6 p.m. and 7:45 p.m. This will be the one and only stateside performance before the students take the play in Scotland. Desserts will be served between the two shows. The evening will be free to the general public, with a suggested donation of $10 to help cover expenses for the festival trip.

The characters are American teenagers at a Colorado arts high school at the beginning of 2019 and through 2020, and the play explores the themes of loss, grief and love. The play begins with the characters overjoyed about their school musical, Wait Til You See What's Next. But the timeline shifts when 2020 arrives and quarantine hits. The story covers the school's transition to an online format, as well as the obstacles that begin to arise.
click to enlarge Denver School of the Arts students during a live rehearsal. - THOR COLINGER
Denver School of the Arts students during a live rehearsal.
Thor Colinger
One such obstacle is the struggle between characters Cassidy and Jordan to maintain a relationship during a global pandemic. Jordan, who has diabetes, eventually contracts the virus and ends up in the ICU. Another student, Sam, is dealing with the closing of their family's restaurant. The play also incorporates the killing of George Floyd at the hands of police, an event that resulted in worldwide protests. A character named Krystal reacts to how Floyd's death and subsequent protests impact her family and her daily life as a Black student in a predominantly white school.

The play continues to follow the timeline of real events that came after the lockdown. The election season is covered, as well as the issue of gun violence: The characters must deal with a shooting that took place at a grocery store in Boulder, just thirty minutes from their school.

As the play comes to an end, the characters do not seem to catch a break. Mirroring the harsh realities of COVID-19, Jordan does not recover, and his friends and family plan a memorial. Sam has to deal with becoming homeless. Krystal is still reeling from the death of so many people of color in this country.

“I hope that the audience stops for this hour and sees the impact all these things that have happened in our world in the past two years has had on our youth. That not only are they back in school grieving the loss of their last two years of school, [but] the social-emotional development they missed out on,” says director Shawn Hann, who heads the theater department at the school.

The play holds a deeper meaning for the performers. It has become an outlet to express the struggles they also have experienced.

“We just jumped back into school full-blast, like it was normal," Hann says. "But it wasn't normal yet. We were still in masks. We still, even this month, have handfuls of students who miss school for weeks due to having COVID or their families all getting it after resisting for two years. I'm hoping that through art they are able to react to the events of the past two years and begin the process of recovering. I hope they can begin to recover."

The audience is taken on a journey through the character's tragic lives. The performance allowed the performers and the audience to look back at the past two years. “I hope more people take away kindness [from this play]," notes Adison Keith, script writer and performer. “I hope we represent everyone, and that everyone can find a piece of themselves in the show."

"People say [theater] is a dying business. I disagree. I would say it's a business that needs to be fed. It needs audience members to come and cheer us on," says Warner, urging the public to help support the cast of re:Action.

The students leave for Scotland on July 27 and will perform over the first two weeks of August in Edinburgh as a part of the C Venues lineup.

The performances of re:Action will be hosted at at 6 and 7:45 p.m. Friday, May 20, at Denver School of Arts, Schomp Auditorium, 7111 Montview Boulevard. Admission is free, but there's a suggested donation of $10.
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