Fresno State Experimental Theatre Company’s Temperance Talley adapts a poem into a play
Fresno State’s Experimental Theatre Company has a long tradition of doing something very well: putting students in charge. Unlike bigger-budget mainstage productions at the university whose creative teams are mostly made up of faculty members, ETC is student-run.
Of course, this year things are different. “Shelter-in-Plays,” which features five original plays written and directed by students, was produced on Zoom. It premieres 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 8, on YouTube and will be available to stream indefinitely. (A Facebook Live special pre-premiere will be held on 6:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 8 on the University Theatre Facebook page. The Facebook Live stream will include the writers and directors of the original virtual plays.
I interviewed writer/director Temperance Talley about her contribution.
Q: Your original play is titled “A Poem Play.” In it, an elementary school teacher tackles the effects of one of her students using a racial slur during their Zoom class. Can you talk about what led up to this idea?
A: I had recently come into contact with a brilliant poem, “The Opposites Game,” by Brendan Constantine. It’s about a classroom, a small society, being asked a difficult question that in the end, doesn’t have one answer or any answer. It is a true reflection on how the very current issues of racism and gun violence are being talked about in the United States today. I also remember reading the poem and thinking this is theater and like how one would translate ASL, Japanese or any medium, I wanted to translate this poem into a play.
Q: How did the casting and rehearsal process work?
A: To my surprise, the casting and rehearsal process was pretty seamless. I believe it’s due to the incredible engagement and resilience of Fresno State theater students to their art. We really needed students who were up for a challenge, patient with us when we were figuring things out for the first time and willing to show up even amongst their own difficulty. There were plenty of tech issues towards the end for me, but I can say everyone involved with ETC did their very best to show up for one another.
Q: How long is your play? How many in the cast?
A: “A Poem Play” is just under sixteen minutes. I had one of the larger casts of nine.
Q: I’m assuming that the production is done on Zoom with actors coming from separate locations. Do they remain stationary on camera, or is there blocking involved? How about costumes and other elements of stagecraft?
A: Yes, all actors are in separate locations and we all meet up on Zoom. For “A Poem Play,” I strongly desired to have everything on Zoom. No recording oneself and then editing it all together to look like a typical short film. I desired at the time to show those who wanted to create plays with a very little budget and equipment during quarantine times when no one should be in close contact with too many people for a time. So, “A Poem Play” was rehearsed and filmed all through Zoom, because of this however, there were a lot of things I believe were sacrificed at the end of the day, such as audio quality and video quality, but I believe the core of the story is still alive.
Q: Five plays are featured in the program. Is there an overall theme?
A: I would say four out five plays really drew from current events, such as COVID topics, the millennial viewpoint and trying to connect with each other in this fast paced, online world we have always known.
Q: Gun violence and racism are addressed in your play. Why did you decide to examine these issues?
A: As an African-American woman, there is an expectation to write about racism and therefore gun violence, since the African American population is usually the target of such violences. They are very interconnected. I also think the poem I was translating into a play prompted these issues, so I could not ignore them or leave them out. I didn’t want to. I wanted to hold as much truth from the poem into the play. I even kept some of the lines from the poem in the play.
Q: After the pandemic is over, do you think you’d want to write or direct another Zoom play?
A: The point of all of us writing and directing is to show others art can still thrive even during pandemics. So I’m still writing, plays, poems and short stories. I do crave to direct a live play of my own, so I will still pursue that. However, writing and directing a Zoom play again isn’t something I want to do soon. I’d rather act in them.
Q: Tell us a little about yourself (year at Fresno State, where you went to high school, theatrical interests, etc.)
A: As I said, I’m an African American woman, I recently graduated Spring 2020 from Fresno State. I was a Theater major-General Emphasis and Creative Writing minor. I love plays and playwriting, as well as directing and hold a special appreciation for Sound. I went to Central East/West High School.
Q: Anything else you’d like to say?
• The Fresno State theater students would greatly benefit from having a playwriting course offered in the department.
• For anyone wanting to take on a Zoom play, keep it simple and keep your cast small.
• “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you” — Maya Angelou. Please write your stories, ideas and show them to the world. We need them, in a very real and present way.
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Also on the program
“Hindrance”: Written by JJ Valentin. Directed by Jenna Valencia. After returning from a week-long vacation, Mel receives an unanticipated letter from a distant aunt saying that she will be paying Mel a visit soon. Her best friend Taylor is intrigued by the letter, but both soon become petrified when they discover that the true visitor is something far worse.
“Harold & Genesis”: Written by Santiago Batista. Directed by Alexis Gonzalez. Harold and Genesis are being investigated for a recent murder in the neighborhood. This
comedic thriller is sure to delight and entertain.
“Z”: Written and directed by Teya Juarez. “Z” is a devised-style piece that explores the unique struggles and expectations of Generation Z. It touches on hard topics such as school shootings and sexual assault.
“Anyone Else”: Written and directed by Emily King. We are taught that vulnerability is a weakness that should be hidden from the world. “Anyone Else” begs the question: What would the world be like if we refused to remain silent?