Critic: Lauren Smith

6 Comments on “Critic: Lauren Smith

  1. “Take all that love, all that joy, all that excitement, all that energy and place it into your body for safekeeping.” And with that line, my eyes watered for the first time and did not fully dry until after the end of the show.

    On January 28, at 7:30PM, I sat on my couch and tuned in to Suffolk University’s “To Gather Apart”. Written and directed by Nael Nacer, this relevant, timely, and deeply authentic play found the line of relatability without ever crossing into cliches. For the first twelve minutes, the production placed you in a buzzing, excited audience, staring at a closed grand drape. I did not end up sitting through all of it and skipped ahead after about five minutes. I do not think it needed to be quite this long, but when the orchestra began to swell, I was reminded just how much I missed that sound.

    While this show feels as if it is intended for an audience of those who miss theater, it will appeal to everyone. Anyone who regularly logs on to Zoom has experienced the frustration when someone cannot figure out how to unmute themselves. Everyone understands the “Zoom Fatigue”: when video calls feel as if we are trying to pretend that everything is normal while reminding us just how lonely we are. Without ever losing honesty, “To Gather Apart” places its hands on your shoulders, stares into your eyes, and assures you that you are not alone.

    Each performer created a character whose purpose was clear, specific, and unique. Alex, the administrator of the group, is played by the talented Madlynn Bard. Bard is incredible in this role. She shines as Alex attempts to check in on everyone in the group as a way to distract herself from her own anxieties and struggles. We watch the as she grows this support system and feel heartbroken when she stops attending.

    After Week 7, Alex attends a Zoom call in a nightmare where it becomes clear she is scared of losing her place as the administrator in the group. Without leading this weekly support group, she will lose any ability to avoid her problems. This unsettling scene depicts the powerlessness Alex is terrified of having to face. It masterfully built upon itself, innocently beginning with one off-putting person, ending with a screen full of flashing images.

    However, immediately following this scene was the weakest part of the show. This section was the only time I felt distanced from the reality that was built. Autumn sits with a Scientology Evaluator where he calculates her emotional percentages. I interpreted this to be part of Autumn’s attempt to understand why the pandemic and suffering was occurring. I understand that many people do turn to religion in an attempt to find reasons, but I do not believe a Scientology Evaluation scene was the best way to explore this large concept. Both Collin Smith, the Evaluator, and Kiara Caridad Stewart, Autumn, brought energy and purpose to this otherwise odd scene, but it felt repetitive after Alex’s nightmare. I wish Kira and Autumn had sat together on a call and discussed all of this, instead of bringing in Scientology out of the blue. In this scene, I no longer felt like a member of the Zoom call. I felt sucked out of the world and was reminded of the wall between myself and this support group

    After, I quickly forgot that Scientology was ever thrown into this play and Melis, brought to life by Taso Bolkwadze, brought tears to my eyes again. From Bolkwadze’s first monologue about her emotional weather state, I was in awe of her command of this character. She builds Melis with a kind heart under a jagged and fracturing exterior. I never doubted the goodness that existed in Melis, even when the character’s actions were morally wrong.

    The show also found the balance of enough humor to raise my spirits without dulling any of the emotional components. Brandon, played by Mateus Cerzario, and his happy-go-lucky outlook inspired me to consider going for a run. Zachary and Sasha, brought to life by Vincent Douglass and Andrea Sofia Rodríguez Josoy respectively, demonstrated that it is still possible to find connections with people and brought hope to the show.

    Suffolk University’s “To Gather Apart” sets out to be a love letter to anyone who is currently grieving theater. It goes beyond this goal and demonstrates the universality of grief while highlighting that no one is truly on their own, even if they are physically alone. “To Gather Apart” invites you to face the reality we are experiencing and promises to be there with you throughout. As someone who has been avoiding art about the pandemic, I am so appreciative I experienced this piece of theater. I highly recommend for anyone who experiences Zoom fatigue, anyone who misses live theater, and anyone who just needs a good cry.

  2. When I was thirteen, I saw the 2012 “Les Miserables” movie musical and my obsession with theater officially began. I credit that to the power of storytelling through song, Victor Hugo, and Aaron Tveit’s wig. I began acting in middle school productions and knew I found something special. Whenever I walked into the dingy auditorium, I gave up all of the stressors and fears that are intrinsic to middle school. Learning someone else’s thoughts and hopes was a fantastic way to ignore all of mine.

    In the following years, I began to polish my craft and expand my love of theater outside of its usefulness as a refuge. I fell in love with empathy, teamwork, and storytelling as a whole. In the fall of 2019, I entered Emmanuel College as a prospective Theater Arts major. I learned more skills to express my love and gratitude to this art form. Then, the world crumbled.

    In times where “the unknown” feels infinitely more dangerous, scary, and pressing, I found myself clinging to theater again as a form of escapism. This past fall, I was casted in “Theater Macabre: Network”, Emmanuel College’s mainstage play. This pre-filmed, choose-your-own adventure piece of storytelling reminded me of the comfort that leaving behind your anxieties, problems, and sadness can bring.

    Sure, the character I played is a power-hungry, evil, murderous woman attempting to wield a deadly virus as a way to get the public reliant on her business. Existing in the thoughts of someone so cold and unfeeling was a break from the exhaustion I was unable to fix with sleep.

    For myself, this show culminated in one night of filming. On this October day, I spent the morning learning my lines at my kitchen table. However, if my director is reading this, please know that statement autocorrected from “I spent the morning relaxingly reviewing my lines, even though I definitely didn’t need to”. Definitely.

    After obsessively calculating time zone differences to ensure I wouldn’t miss filming, I went out to get groceries for the week for my family. Once again, I felt trapped in my anxious brain as I attempted to follow the dusty, peeling arrows on the grocery store floor, even though the item I needed was right there. Fine, I’ll circle around the other isles. It’s fine.

    Back at my house, in a vein effort to cling to normalcy, I did my usual pre-show rituals. I blasted “Shut Up and Dance” by Walk The Moon on repeat and fell back into my familiar jitters. I felt the tightness in my chest as my anxious hives flared up. I did everything I could to treat this like just another show, even though I was 1000 miles away from my fellow cast and crew, director, and home.

    Yes, theater invites audiences into its world. It also gives back to those who help create it. When the audience is whipped into another reality, so are the actors. The costume designers follow after submerging their brain in color pallets and time periods. It envelops stage managers as they focus to call cues at just the right time. It welcomes directors when their thoughts become taken over with blocking ideas and overall concepts.

    Yes, theater is done for audience members, but it must never be overlooked that theater is also done for thespians. During unforeseeable events, it is even more imperative to find coping skills in order to get through the days. How lucky are those of us who have the opportunity to find refuge in this art form.

    • hello, I just want to say that after the meeting today (1/29) I will be revising this before the deadline for the second writing worksop. I thought they all were due last night, so I pushed myself to have it done. I will have it in by the deadline, but I wanted to comment this just so it is known!

  3. (Updated Draft – #2)

    Once called “being unsure of your next line”, “buffering” is now a common occurrence as theater moves to streaming content. Through all of the new challenges, Zoom, pre-filmed, and live-streamed shows are able to allow us reprieves as we press pause on our own personal stressors. As “the unknown” feels infinitely more dangerous, scary, and pressing, I have found myself deeply clinging to theater as a form of escapism. This past fall, I was casted in “Theater Macabre: Network”, Emmanuel College’s mainstage play. This pre-filmed, choose-your-own adventure piece of storytelling made me deeply appreciative of the comfort that leaving behind your anxieties, problems, and sadness can bring.

    Sure, the character I played is a power-hungry, evil, murderous woman attempting to wield a deadly virus as a way to get the public reliant on her business. Existing in the thoughts of someone so cold and unfeeling was a break from the exhaustion I was unable to fix with sleep.

    For myself, this show culminated in one night of filming. On this October day, I spent the morning learning my lines at my kitchen table. However, if my director is reading this, please know that statement autocorrected from “I spent the morning relaxingly reviewing my lines, even though I definitely didn’t need to”. Definitely.

    After obsessively calculating time zone differences to ensure I wouldn’t miss filming, I went out to get groceries for the week for my family. Once again, I felt trapped in my anxious brain as I attempted to follow the dusty, peeling arrows on the grocery store floor, even though the item I needed was right there. Fine, I’ll circle around the other isles. It’s fine.

    Back at my house, in a vein effort to cling to normalcy, I did my usual pre-show rituals. I blasted “Shut Up and Dance” by Walk the Moon on repeat and fell back into my familiar jitters. I felt the tightness in my chest as my anxious hives flared up. I did everything I could to treat this like just another show, even though I was 1000 miles away from my fellow cast and crew, director, and home. After the Zoom call disconnected, I began to take down my green screen in silence. In spite of the empty room, I had more energy. I took my dog for an especially long evening walk, grateful for the hours I spent filming.

    Yes, theater invites audiences into its world. It also gives back to those who help create it. When the audience is whipped into another reality, so are the actors. The costume designers follow after submerging their brain in color pallets and time periods. It envelops stage managers as they focus to call cues at just the right time. It welcomes directors when their thoughts become taken over with blocking ideas and overall concepts.

    Theater is done for audience members, but it must never be forgotten that theater is also done for thespians. During unforeseeable events, it is even more imperative to find coping skills in order to get through the days. I never imagined one of my most important coping skills during a global emergency would be on a video conferencing app. How lucky are those of us who have the opportunity to find refuge in this art form.

  4. Final Draft:

    “Take all that love, all that joy, all that excitement, all that energy and place it into your body for safekeeping.” With that line, my eyes watered for the first time and did not fully dry until after the end of the show.

    On January 28, at 7:30PM, Suffolk University’s “To Gather Apart” premiered at The 2021 Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival. Written and directed by Nael Nacer, this relevant, timely, and deeply authentic play is filled with relatability but never includes clichés. The show begins with a twelve minute view of a grand drape and sounds of an audience murmuring in the background. The introduction achieved its purpose early on, and I found the lingering image distracting. However, when the orchestra finally begins to swell, I predict that every viewer will feel a small, cathartic sting as they are reminded just how much they miss that sound.

    While this show tells the stories of performers missing their craft, it will appeal to everyone. Anyone who regularly logs on to Zoom has experienced the frustration when someone is not able to unmute themselves. Everyone understands “Zoom Fatigue”: when video calls feel as if we are trying to pretend that everything is normal while reminding us just how lonely we are. Without ever feeling dishonesty, “To Gather Apart” places its hands on your shoulders, stares into your eyes, and assures you that you are not alone.

    Each performer has created a character whose purpose is clear, specific, and unique. Alex, the administrator of the group, is played by Madlynn Bard. Bard creates such a natural, believable character in Alex. This is extremely evident in Alex’s Zoom nightmare sequence. It becomes clear she is scared of losing her place as the administrator in the group. This unsettling scene depicts the powerlessness Alex is terrified to face. It masterfully builds upon itself, innocently beginning with one off-putting person and ending with a screen full of flashing images.

    Following this sequence, Autumn sits with a Scientology Evaluator. I felt lost and disconnected from the show as this scene caught me by surprise. It raised more questions than answers and distracted me as I found myself pondering how Scientology as a whole has existed throughout the pandemic. While Collin Smith, the Evaluator, brought energy and a zeal for his job to the scene, I wish it contained Autumn and another member of the support group to allow for more development of the group as a whole.

    After this scene, I was again a member of the support group as Melis, brought to life by Taso Bolkwadze, gave another passionate and emotional monologue. Since Bolkwadze’s first moment on screen, it is clear she is in command of Melis. She builds a kind heart under a jagged and fracturing exterior. There is such goodness within Melis, and Bolkwadze brings it all to the surface, even when Melis’ actions are less than kind.

    The show brings joy that cuts through the sadness. It periodically raises the mood but never takes away from the emotional intensity. Brandon, played by Mateus Cerzario, and his happy-go-lucky outlook inspired me to consider going for a run. Zachary and Sasha, brought to life by Vincent Douglass and Andrea Sofia Rodríguez Josoy respectively, demonstrate that it is still possible to find connections with people and bring hope to the show.

    The premise of Suffolk University’s “To Gather Apart” will appeal to anyone who is currently grieving theater. It goes beyond this and demonstrates the universality of grief while highlighting that no one is truly on their own, even if they may be physically alone. “To Gather Apart” invites its audience to bravely face their reality and promises to be with them throughout. As someone who has been avoiding art about the pandemic, I am so appreciative I experienced this piece of theater. I highly recommend it for anyone who experiences Zoom fatigue, anyone who misses live theater, and anyone who just needs a good cry.

  5. Final Draft – Feature Piece
    Lauren Smith

    At thirteen, I saw the 2012 “Les Miserables” movie musical and my obsession with theater officially began. I credit that to the power of storytelling through song, Victor Hugo, and Aaron Tveit’s wig. I began acting in middle school productions and knew I found something special. Whenever I walked into the dingy auditorium, I gave up all of the stressors and fears that are intrinsic to these years. Learning someone else’s thoughts and hopes was a fantastic way to ignore my own problems.

    In the following years, I began to polish my craft and expand my love of theater outside of its usefulness as a refuge. I fell in love with empathy, teamwork, and storytelling as a whole. In the fall of 2019, I entered Emmanuel College as a prospective Theater Arts major. I learned more skills to express my love and gratitude to this art form. Then, the world crumbled.

    In times where “the unknown” feels infinitely more dangerous, scary, and pressing, I found myself clinging to theater again as a form of escapism. This past fall, I was casted in “Theater Macabre: Network,” Emmanuel College’s mainstage play. This pre-filmed, choose-your-own adventure piece of storytelling reminded me of the comfort that leaving behind your anxieties, problems, and sadness can bring.

    Sure, the character I played is a power-hungry, evil, murderous woman attempting to wield a deadly virus as a way to force the public to rely on her business. Existing in the thoughts of someone so cold and unfeeling was a break from the perpetual exhaustion I was unable to fix with sleep.

    On the day of filming, I went out to get groceries for the week for my family. Once again, I felt trapped in my anxious brain as I attempted to follow the dusty, peeling arrows on the grocery store floor, even though the item I needed was right there. Fine, I’ll circle around from the other isles. It’s fine.

    Back at my house, in a vein effort to cling to normalcy, I did my usual pre-show rituals. I blasted “Shut Up and Dance” by Walk The Moon on repeat and fell back into my familiar jitters. I did everything I could to treat this like just another show, even though I was 1000 miles away from my fellow cast and crew, director, and home.

    After the Zoom call disconnected, I began to take down my green screen in silence. In spite of the silent, empty room, I had more energy. I took my dog for an especially long evening walk, grateful for the hours I spent filming. Exiting the house with a happy, tail-wagging dog in tow, I felt a bit of clarity. Something about escaping to a dystopian horror reality gave me some peace. I was finally out of my head enough to notice the crisp air, the crunching leaves, and even the moonlight shining down.

    I have such an appreciation for that day. Theater invites audiences into its world and it also gives back to those who help create it. When the audience is whipped into another reality, so are the actors. The costume designers follow after submerging their brain in color pallets and time periods. It envelops stage managers as they focus to call cues at just the right time. It welcomes directors when their thoughts become taken over with blocking ideas and overall concepts.

    Theater is done for audience members, but it must never be overlooked that theater is also done for thespians. During unforeseeable events, it is even more imperative to find coping skills in order to get through the days. Through all of the new challenges, Zoom, pre-filmed, and live-streamed shows are able to allow us reprieves as we pause our own problems, worries, and consciousnesses. I never imagined one of my most important coping skills during a world compass would be on a video conferencing app. How lucky are those of us who have the opportunity to find refuge in this art form.

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