Silverthorne Theater online production commemorates 50 anniversary of Kent State Shooting

  • “Days of Possibilities,” written by New York playwright Rich Orloff (pictured), will be performed by volunteers live via Zoom video conference Monday, May 4 at 7 p.m, the 50th anniversary of the day National Guard troops shot and killed four student protestors at Kent State University. Contributed Photo

  • “Days of Possibilities,” written by New York playwright Rich Orloff, will be performed by volunteers live via Zoom video conference Monday, May 4 at 7 p.m, the 50th anniversary of the day National Guard troops shot and killed four student protesters at Kent State University. Contributed Photo

  • Cast Members for the “Days of Possibilities” hold up the peace sign during a virtual rehearsal last week.   Contributed Photo/Lucinda Kidder

Published: 5/1/2020 2:07:50 PM
Modified: 5/1/2020 2:07:40 PM

As the nation and local Pioneer Valley continue to grapple with repercussions of the lasting COVID-19 pandemic, Silverthorne Theater will perform an online play that remembers another tragic, watershed moment in the nation’s history.

“Days of Possibilities,” written by New York playwright Rich Orloff, will be performed by volunteers live via Zoom video conference Monday, May 4 at 7 p.m, the 50th anniversary of the day National Guard troops shot and killed four student protesters at Kent State University. He has offered the Zoom version of the play royalty-free for the Silverthorne performance.

The play is based on letters and interviews with students who attended Oberlin College during the 1960s amid anti-war protests. “Days of Possibilities” mixes monologues and simple “story theater” scenes to chart the journey of one college’s response to the Vietnam War.

“This was a generation of young people who were not ready to accept what had been dictated for them,” Silverthorne Managing Director Lucinda Kidder said. 

Some characters take an active role in the anti-war protests, while other characters express doubts of these actions as the play captures the polarizing time in history. The play climaxes with the shooting, and scenes reminding audiences of the strength and courage students had during that time of crisis.

“Although the play is about another era, I think its message of hope in the face of uncertainty will resonate with this time,” Orlaff said in a press release for the upcoming production.

Information about how to connect to the live stream will be available on Silverthorne Theater Company’s website, silverthornetheater.org. Attendance is limited, so sign up soon. To receive an invitation to attend this special free event, call 413-768-7514 or write to silverthornetheater@gmail.com.

“We’ve never done anything like this,” Kidder said of the online play.

The cast is a mix of professional actors and entirely new members. After announcing it was seeking local thespians to participate in the virtual play, Silverthorne Theater Co. was able to recruit 21 performers.

“That’s two screens’ worth of people in the gallery on Zoom,” she said.

According to Kidder, Orlaff re-wrote parts of the play in order for scenes to be better portrayed through Zoom. For example, most of the play is portrayed through monologue, with only two or three characters trading lines in some scenes. Kidder said rehearsals for the virtual production began last week.

“It’s certainly not my chosen way of doing things,” she said. “I’ve directed all my life. ... I’m hoping we can get the material across and that the actors have a chance to make it their own — as if it were a normal play.”

Kidder said challenges from producing a production via video chat stem from troubles with a consistent sound and picture quality. The cast held their first read-through together last Friday. Another challenge for both Kidder and the actors is the new need to be conscious of the limited screen size and their performance space so they can avoid walking out of frame while performing.

One local actor, Thom Griffin, 70, has performed in several Silverthorne productions over the years. While he has always considered himself a performer, he said he began acting regularly when he was 29 years old.

“I craved the attention,” Griffin said.

But now, after so many years in the local theater scene, he said it’s less about the attention and more about renewing friendships with other actors from the local theater scene. Unfortunately, due to the current health pandemic, Griffin has only seen these friends and fellow actors through a computer screen during rehearsals. While he misses being with the cast in person, Griffin said he has still enjoyed working with the unusual performance model.

“There is little dialogue, it’s mostly individuals’ statements so it actually feels pretty perfect for Zoom,” he said.

For lighting and stage setting at home, Griffin said he and other actors have had to become self-sufficient and set up their own “stage” at home. For his own neutral backdrop, Griffin used a folding Japanese screen with a black sheet draped over it. He is also learning to set up lighting, saying he is having trouble avoiding the computer screen’s reflection in his glasses.

Technical Director John Iverson joked that anyone using Zoom for work the last few weeks has likely experienced similar challenges he is facing. He has been guiding actors through setting up their lighting and background settings for the performance. Small costumes pieces are in the works and he is considering building hand props, like protest signs, to further establish the setting and time. 

“It’s just like running a normal show in some ways,” Iverson said. “It’s just a different kind of stage.”

Some actors will be using Zoom’s virtual background feature, others will use a blank backdrop and others will use their actual rooms. Iverson said he is considering using the screen-sharing feature on Zoom to post pictures of protests and the Kent State campus as visual cues. Instead of the usual live orchestra, Iverson will be responsible for music cues through the video chat.

One challenge Iverson acknowledged is internet lag-time. He said the picture quality may be varied depending on an actor or audience member’s internet connection, and there is a risk that the audio won’t line up perfectly with the video feed.

When asked, Iverson said it’s possible other plays could be adapted for a Zoom-style performance, although performing for an empty room or in the kitchen doesn’t bring the same reward.

“While they have to be able to perform without an audience in rehearsal … performers get so much back from the audience,” Iverson said. 

According to Kidder, Orlaff submitted the play to Silverthorne Theater Co., which regularly reads and performs new and original plays. After the theater company’s board gave approval, production of the show began. “Days of Possibilities” will also be performed at three other locations across the United States May 4 to commemorate the Kent State shootings. Kidder said it will be performed in Chattanooga, Tenn,  Fredericksville, Md., and Tuscan, Ariz.

In addition to the live performance May 4, Kidder said the theater company will record its production on Zoom with Orlaff’s permission and it will be available free of charge on YouTube to Silverthorne Theater Co. subscribers, students and their parents until June 4.

As the Upper Pioneer Valley’s only small professional company, Silverthorne is a resident company at the Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center in downtown Greenfield. Silverthorne Theater was founded in 2014 and is a registered non-profit company. For more information on Silverthorne and its history, go to silverthornetheater.org.

Zack DeLuca can be reached at zdeluca@recorder.com or 413-930-4579.

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