Western Reserve Academy presents innovative filmed theater series, 'All I Want is a Fair View'

Western Reserve Academy presents innovative filmed theater series, 'All I Want is a Fair View'

All I Want is a Fair View will premiere on the big screen in the Knight Fine Arts Center on Friday, Nov. 13, at 8 p.m. Seating in our auditorium is limited in accordance with COVID-19 protocols. A recording of the performance will be released on Vimeo the following day on the portal for all to watch and enjoy.

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At the start of the school year, Fine & Performing Arts Department faculty member Donalee Ong wrote to the WRA community to answer a pressing question on everyone's minds — how will theater performances take shape in a time of masks and mandatory physical distancing?

"It will not look the same," she explained. "Over the summer, I explored many options to replace what we usually do to come up with an exciting, safe theater experience."

The solution is a filmed monologue series from 20 different performances and written works, all that delve into themes of identity and equality. Some voices will be familiar, such as the words of Sojourner Truth, Anne Frank, Atticus Finch and Maya Angelou. But in a format with such flexibility, and under the overarching theme of equality, there was opportunity to explore new or unconventional pieces. There will be contemporary poems, excerpts from Sophie's Choice and The Normal Heart, Marie Jenney Howe's satirical anti-suffrage monologue, "The Speech that Shocked Birmingham" originally delivered by Alabama lawyer Charles Morgan Jr. in 1963 and more.

From the start, Ong knew she wanted to include pieces that address injustice or social disparity or share the perspective of marginalized people, including Black Americans, the LGBTQIA+ community, women, those who have experienced systemic racism, historic persecution and more. She also sought works that would resonate with and suit the actors, aiming to have them perform something they connected to and genuinely loved.

It culminates in an eclectic and powerful production that promises to be thought-provoking and balanced, some pieces tongue-in-cheek and some charged with raw emotion. And in a year full of social activism, the theme of equality is both relevant and inline with conversation across the country. It's Ong's hope that this fall series is an uplifting experience and one that sparks fruitful and healthy dialogue among the community, helping us to gain better understanding of perspectives outside our own.

The road from tryouts to opening night typically includes multiple weeks of a substantial rehearsal schedule, often with the full cast and crew, leading up to dress rehearsals, sound checks, possibly some backstage jitters and then out on stage to bright lights and a full audience. As a filmed production, All I Want is a Fair View took a very different approach, with performers meeting one-on-one with the director for their rehearsals and performing in front of the camera.

Since there is no lead up to a live performance in front of a full audience, on Friday, Nov. 13, there will be a screening of the full production, where cast and crew will have the unique opportunity to be the audience of their own show. And since KFAC cannot accommodate a full audience due to COVID-19 protocols, the video link will be made available to the WRA community the following day.

Both Ong and Technical Theater Director Brandon Davies admitted that since neither of them are filmmakers, much of this production required experimentation, creativity and trial and error. Davies shared how much he has enjoyed learning this new craft and shifting his perspective from thinking like a theater director to thinking like a film director.

"I'm learning about lighting for film, cinematography and film editing and a lot of that had to be learned along the way," he explained. "Once I got started, I realized it's actually a lot of fun."

Each performance takes place in an empty set with no props in sight and a neutral, black backdrop. Each actor will be in costume, though some will be contemporary and some from another era, depending on the scene and the period of the piece.

"When we were thinking about a set design, [Donalee and I] came to the conclusion that since each piece is so truly different that no set was going to be able to fit all of them," said Davies. "But designing a more sparse set was both a pragmatic and artistic decision. With nothing to distract you, you really focus your attention on the performance."

After so many weeks of working closely with her cast, Ong shared how incredibly proud she is of her cast and their hard work, and she looks forward to sharing their moving performances with the entire community.

"You really get lost in what the kids are conveying and in their acting," Ong said. "Their performances are going to be the backbone of the show."

We are looking forward to tuning in to watch All I Want is a Fair View on Saturday, Nov. 14. And while many of the performances are already filmed, edited and ready to go, we still feel compelled to give our cast the time-honored words of encouragement: Break a leg!

The cast and crew of All I Want is a Fair View: Nana Kyei '24, Aja Topps-Harjo '21, Logan Amos '23, Alyssa Clark '23, Alex Newman '24, Elba Heddesheimer '23, Kian Kischke '24, Camille Wheeler '21, Ela Mody '23, Brooke Ashley '21, Sarah London '22, Gunnar Gray '22, Carter Frato-Sweeney '22, Ellie Polyak '21, Rachel Ott '23, Lauren Dempsey '21, Nora Namiotka '23, Taylor Harper '22, Jin Lee '22, Keshav Mody '22, Griffin Arnold '22 and Stage Manager Landon Allis '23.