Texas Tech University

Embracing a Virtual Season

Mark Charney

February 9, 2021

Mark Charney

I am fortunate to be teaching a playwriting seminar this semester, one that explores the structure fantasia as a means of storytelling. Usually associated with music, especially improvisation, fantasia explores what happens when opposing forces are spliced together to create a new reality, igniting conflict, discordance. It's a challenging concept, especially applied to playwriting, but an important one, allowing the author to make sure that content drives form, and suggesting that linear narrative structures, while comforting and nostalgic, are not the only ways we process information.

Because not much is written about fantasia and playwriting, the class has the opportunity to formulate its own definition, exploring ideas from fantasy, music, art, Afrofuturism, and science fiction in the imagining of structuring their full-length plays. But we, as a class, are excited: we have the opportunity to work together as a community to understand how this concept best represents our stories, and maybe discover together our definition of fantasia as scholars and playwrights.

When planning the class, I can't help but reflect on how much this structure, with its revelatory consideration of our most intimate thought processes, parallels education right now, especially in the challenges we have faced when embracing a virtual season. The two plays that we are staging at the beginning of this semester, for example, Sonnets for an Old Century by José Rivera and Blown Youth by Dipika Guha, both embrace unconventional storytelling.

Critic Alan Hall describes Sonnets, performed as a series of monologues/poems by a large company of actors, as follows):

...each story, small as it might be in and of itself, fills the space, and our ears and our minds, with feeling; joy, fear, rage, love, sorrow; and makes each one expand to fill this void. We as listeners are forced to face these ravaging emotions, even as we contemplate the death of the storyteller. This work is simple, and simply potent in its impact. And while it seems to do without the trappings of stagework, set, plot, scenes, etc, it is powerfully theatrical.

And the latter, Blown Youth, by Dipika Guha, author of Passing, a play we produced at LHUCA during our site-specific season, is described as follows:

An aspiring actress and founder of a feminist commune, Celia wants one thing: to play a great role. But despite her sophisticated education and commitment to helping women, Celia, like Hamlet before her, cannot act. Still, it seems her consciousness doesn't lie only inside herself. It seeds and sprouts amidst her twenty-first century kinships: her friends. Inspired by Shakespeare and set in those hazy post-college years, Blown Youth examines what happens to the universe when a woman is at its center.
Neither play tells a story straightforwardly. Neither relies on cause/effect, and both challenge the readers/viewers to create their own realities based on sharing and processing what they witness on stage.






All of the elements of great theatre reside in each script. But neither author hesitates to make the audience lean up, work to connect the dots and create meaning.

These two works, not originally part of our season, were chosen in response to the Call to Action we received this summer, in part challenging us to amplify the work of BIPOC authors. We listened, and our community believed that these plays were timelier than those originally chosen, exploring a greater diversity of voice and style. I could not be prouder of our two MFA graduate directors, April Langehenning for Sonnets and Leah Johnson for Blown Youth, who are directing these scripts in original, provocative ways, taking full advantage of our virtual platform, working intimately with designers to bring these unconventional stories to life.

We end our theatre season with short new plays and choreography by our students, now called Frontier Festival (previously RROAPS/RRADS); they, too, represent how our own playwrights and choreographers understand and depict the world around them. And we close with A Chorus Line, a musical that also challenges traditional structure by asking audiences to piece together a narrative based on the internal confessions of those who audition for a musical. Again, not a traditional structure.

Transitioning to a virtual platform seems analogous to the concept of fantasia to me, and as my seven graduate playwrights begin to formulate their stories in class, experimenting with new structures informed by music and art, it strikes me that we are all traversing new territories that make external our internal conflicts and dreams.

We hope you join us in this adventure!