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Seniors in the performing arts find new purpose, inspiration despite entering a changed industry

Seniors find joy in acting, music composition, theatre production

While businesses have reopened across the country, many theaters, concert venues and other stages remain closed for the foreseeable future. After graduation, a group of seniors who have been creating, dancing, performing and working toward their dreams in the performing arts will head off in separate directions, having left their mark on College Hill. 

The Herald spoke with six members of the senior class pursuing a form of performing arts at Brown on what they learned about their art and themselves during the pandemic and how they are looking ahead as graduation approaches. 

Creating meaning in theatre for a world on pause

Bella Cavicchi ’21 and some of her closest friends had been working on the show “Your Own Personal Exegesis” last spring when the University notified students that they had to leave campus due to the pandemic. As the production manager, she was in charge of the design of the show, the budget for the large set and publicity. 

In place of opening night, the production team held a final open dress rehearsal with select friends in the audience. “It was just so wonderful to have that kind of last hurrah before we all had to go,” Cavicchi recalled.

Cavicchi worked on three to four productions each semester before the pandemic, alongside an independent concentration in literacy and performing arts. This spring, she was a stage manager for Theater Arts and Performing Studies’ Writing is Live festival. This year’s shows were produced in the form of audio plays. “I felt like I was stage managing a podcast,” Cavicchi said of the new format.

As an aspiring theatre educator, creating virtual theatre has spurred Cavicchi to reflect on why we make theatre and what stories we tell. On Zoom, “you don't really have the bells and whistles that I think a lot of shows kind of can rely on … you really are relying on the imagination and (the) suspension of disbelief,” she said. 

This past year has also been a “long overdue break” for the industry to address issues of inclusivity and accessibility, she said. As she heads for graduate school at the University of Cambridge to study Arts, Creativity and Education, she hopes to be an advocate for change herself. 

Miranda Pla ’21.5, who studies Philosophy and Literary Arts with honors in playwriting, has found alternative ways to continue producing theatre as well. Sponsored by the musical licensing company Concord Theatricals, Pla took leave last semester to create animatic videos for her Youtube channel, which has gained over six million total views. 

The videos set the soundtracks of Broadway musicals to Pla’s original animations and editing, and help promote rising musicals during a time when “theaters have been forced to get creative with how they can still reach people,” she said. A recent animatic for the musical Amélie took her around 120 hours to make.

Pla arrived at the University planning on a career in law, but decided to pursue theatre after attending the Musical Forum Board’s annual mini musical festival as a first-year. “I never realized that someone like me — like my age, my experience level — could write and make something so good,” she recalled. Now, as a member of the board, Pla has written, directed and produced her own musical entitled “For Azalea.”

“The future is such a huge question mark” and there is “no pipeline to become a writer or director for films,” Pla said. Still, she has found her involvement in student groups to give her an invaluable platform for hands-on learning and exposure to a talented community. Pla plans on continuing digital freelance work and developing her musical this summer before she graduates.  

Writing a soundtrack for the future   

Music has been a form of solace over the past year for Karya Sezener ’21, a sound designer, composer and singer/songwriter. Music “transports you to a moment that you experienced or maybe even didn’t experience,” Sezener said. “As a songwriter, I’ve felt at times where if I’m unhappy with the situation that I’m in physically, I can write a song and it can transport me to another memory or another moment.”

Sezener studies music and TAPS, and has been involved on the board of Fermata, a student music collective, the TAPS’ department production group Sock & Buskin and student short film productions. With on-campus shows having a high demand for technical skills like working sound cues and lights, Sezener would sometimes find herself at a set for twelve consecutive hours doing tech. 

Performing arts endeavors have looked different for her since then, but the drive to work remains. In the fall, Sezener studied remotely in Turkey, her home country, and lived with a pod of music producers. Once every week for five weeks, she and her pod produced a song in the span of one day, covering different genres each session. 

Sezener’s favorite composer is Ramin Djawadi, who scored HBO’s “Game of Thrones” and “Westworld.” “Whenever I feel disempowered, listening to those tracks (is) both inspiration in terms of the music he writes, but also it's emotional encouragement because the music itself is very empowering,” she said.

After graduating, Sezener plans on building her career in Turkey, pursuing her dual dreams as a Turkish singer/songwriter and a composer for the TV industry.

Getting into character and into the field 

Young actors entering the field amid the ongoing pandemic face the silence of an empty theatre. But in the act of performing alone, some have found room for reflection. 

For Leonardo Tamez ’21, a Zoom play he worked on this semester sparked an emotional connection. In a show produced for the Africana Studies department, Tamez played the role of a non-binary character giving a eulogy. While trying to create a feeling of intimacy by looking into the camera, “at a point … I just kind of started crying,” he said. 

As a queer person, the moment felt like “mourning and purging at the same time. It just connected in this very intimate, visceral way for me,” Tamez said. 

Though he would have preferred the opportunity to perform live and play off of the energy in the room, it would have “complicated the process” and the simplicity of the scaled down play, he said. Tamez started performing after joining the Mezcla Latin Dance Troupe on campus, having not had prior access to performing arts coming from a low-income background, he said. He plans on moving to New York to pursue theatre in the near future, and hopes to create an organization for Brown graduates to continue to perform and collaborate with one another beyond graduation, regardless of their career paths. “Performance is something that heals societies,” he said.

Marianna Scott ’21 began acting at a very young age. But she put aside performing in high school to focus on academics and has concentrated in physics and philosophy at the University. After being sent home due to the pandemic last spring, Scott found that reading the works of German philosopher Martin Heidegger every day gave her the space to recognize that she wanted to fully pursue acting. 

Scott began questioning the motivations behind the goals she set in college and the fear that “I wasn’t going to hit the next benchmark of success,” she said. “I really stopped chasing those external validation markers and instead started to listen to (what) actually is important to me … and I think that was what gave me the courage to pursue acting,” she said.

Since making that decision, Scott has taken part in a virtual summer acting intensive with the Atlantic Acting School and another acting intensive this semester. She plans on training intensely for the next year and continuing to investigate ideas like the philosophy of quantum mechanics through writing projects in her spare time. 

Similarly, Jenny Lange ’21 has been taking independent acting lessons with a friend to prepare for her career after graduation.

Continuing to learn, despite not being in-person, has kept her feeling grounded and productive; “If anything, I've learned a lot more throughout quarantine,” she said. Without all the considerations that come with working on a large production, Lange has been able to focus on building her individual skill-set and will return to her home in Los Angeles after graduating to begin auditioning for film and TV.

 

“I was very scared for a long time to (say) that I was going to do acting when I graduated because it’s so unstable,” she said. Lange quoted a piece of advice she received: “Your job as an actor is actually to be living in that uncertainty, and to be really pursuing that goal.”



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