Every fall, the Bryant Players, Bryant University’s premiere theatre group, come together to dazzle their audience. This autumn’s show, a production of Happy Ever After Hours, a comedic deconstruction of fairy tale plots and characters, was a little bit different, though. To protect the health of actors, crew, and audience during a global pandemic, the Players rethought how they prepared and performed to ensure the show would go on.
“This was a unique production for us,” says Lorenzo Ricci ’21, who directed the play. “So much work went into this performance and it shows that art is a very resilient thing and can happen in any circumstance.”
This fall’s production was a little more important for the club than normal, explains Dana Brokmeier ’21, President of the Bryant Players. Unable to perform their 2020 spring musical because of the shift to online learning but eager to return to the stage, the Players rallied over the summer and began to make plans for a return.
“We had to be resilient and resourceful. We were working until the last minute.”
“It had been six months since we were able to perform together so we knew we were going to find a way to make our fall show happen,” says Brokmeier. She notes that the group’s Executive Board met via Zoom every week during the break to figure out how to go forward. “We said, ‘we have no idea how to do this, but we’ll figure it out.’ Some way or another, we always knew that it was going to happen.”
They weren’t just working to put on a great show for the audience, but also to make sure it was done safely. When students returned to campus in August, Brokmeier and the Players consulted with a range of University officials to plan the play down to the last detail. “We had three to four meetings every single week with different offices,” Brokmeier notes.
Rising to the challenge
To ensure everyone’s safety, the Players made a number of changes to their usual operations. The biggest was that instead of staging the show in Bryant’s Janikies Theatre, their normal venue, they would perform on a temporary stage at the University’s outdoor Track and Turf Complex.
That change in venue required the group to figure out entirely new ways to stage the show, from “blocking” the positions of cast members to sound engineering to filming the performance. “We had to be resilient and resourceful,” says Adam McDonagh ’24. As a member of the crew, he had to scramble to help build an easy-to-disassemble set the troupe could take down and rebuild between performances. “We were working until the last minute,” he remembers.
“I think this goes to show that Bryant is teaching something that works, from innovative thinking to creative problem solving.”
The Players also changed how they rehearsed. To limit exposure, they began with online rehearsals and moved on to small group rehearsals before finally coming together to perform with the whole cast. Masks, of course, were a must. “I thought it was a very interesting change, having to perform with just your eyes and body,” says Danyelle Sydnor ’23, who played Rose Red in the production. “It was a really fun challenge.”
As the production evolved, the Players say they relied on their Bryant education, which taught them to think on their feet, come up with imaginative solutions, and brainstorm new ways to adapt. “I think this goes to show that Bryant is teaching something that works, from innovative thinking to creative problem solving,” says Ricci, who gives special credit to the University’s IDEA (Innovation and Design Experience for All) design-thinking program.
The fire inside
To make the show a success, all 25 members of the production needed to pull together as one. "We all got really close very quickly and we were really excited to be together,” says Brokmeier. “We definitely became a family."
“The fact that we worked as hard as we did to put on the show, that shows that we have a fire inside us."
That sense of belonging is one of the key reasons Sydnor says she’s proud to be a Player. “For me, joining the Players was of course about performing, but it was more about making connections with people.”
When they pull together, says Sydnor, they can accomplish anything. “The fact that we worked as hard as we did to put on the show, that shows that we have a fire inside us,” she states.
For three days in early October, the Bryant Players performed Happily Ever After Hours for a small audience of socially distanced supporters in the Track and Turf Complex stands and livestreamed the shows to several hundred others on Facebook. The performances were polished; the lighting, sound, and filming worked; the set looked great. Most importantly, everyone was safe.
"I'm always going to remember that feeling of accomplishment, and everyone that helped make it happen.”
The extensive planning and hard work paid off. "People came up to me after the show and admitted that they didn't think this was actually going to happen,” remembers Ricci. “I told the cast, I think we’ve done something that is very impressive – we managed to put all of this together, this incredibly unique show with so many challenges. I'm always going to remember that feeling of accomplishment, and everyone that helped make it happen.”
“This was an experience that none of us are ever going to forget,” says Sydnor. “It was really bittersweet after the last performance because there was a lot of pride but I was sad that it was over,” states Sydnor.
The Players are already hard at work on their next show, a production of Little Women. Schedule changes have pushed up their timeline, and they have less time to prepare and rehearse than in other years. They’re not worried, though. “I know that we can do it,” says Brokmeier. “I feel like we can do anything now.”