This weekend, the Yale Dramatic Association will put on “Dominion” — an original play by Catherine Alam-Nist ’24 — for its 2020 virtual Fall Ex. This story of isolation and love will take place live on Zoom from Nov. 13 to Nov. 15.
“Dominion” is a virtual adaptation of William Shakespeare’s play “Troilus and Cressida.” Set in the near future, the play follows several women in Troy as the Greek army besieges the city-state. The performance reimagines traditional narratives to amplify voices that are not traditionally heard in theater, including those of LGBTQ+ and BIPOC people.
“‘Troilus and Cressida’ is not one of the super well-known Shakespeare plays, but I’ve always been really interested in the questions it raised surrounding gender and sexuality, particularly as a queer theater maker and nonbinary theater maker,” said writer-director Alam-Nist.
When thinking about the Fall Ex in May, the Alam-Nist’s team initially pitched the play “Top Girls.” In July, they had to shift gears after the cancellation of in-person theater on campus. It was difficult to obtain rights for a show at that stage, and the Dramat was left with two options: a play in the public domain or one they already owned.
The team decided to “smash the two and make an adaptation,” according to producer Jenan Cameranesi ’23. Consequently, Alam-Nist offered to write the adaptation. To create a “collaborative product,” the entire team worked on Alam-Nist’s rough draft together. During the first month of rehearsals, which started in September, Alam-Nist met virtually with actors to review scenes. Lauren Marut ’24, an actor in the show, said that devising the piece allowed “a lot of room to experiment and explore.”
The script was solidified during the second month of rehearsals, giving actors a chance to learn their lines as they adapted to Zoom rehearsals. Marut said the rehearsals were “really challenging” because of people’s unstable internet connections and overlapping audio feeds. However, Sophia DeVito ’22, who plays Achilles, said this Zoom frustration helped them relate to their characters since “most characters are feeling the same things.”
Since actors could not perform together in person, the production team approached the performance in innovative ways. Costume pieces were put together from actors’ closets and lighting was reimagined with iPhone flashlights.
“It’s like DIY theater,” Marut said.
Set and costume designer Claire Sattler ’23, who is used to hands-on work, said this adjustment caused her to “shift [her] set design philosophy.” Instead of building one set that ties the show’s themes together, Sattler worked to create 16 individual sets, highlighting each character’s distinct personality. For example, Sattler chose maps, posters, even a shelf — all on a budget of $12.50 per person.
Rehearsing virtually also changed the nature of their community. Without breaks for actors to get to know each other, Marut said that time on Zoom felt “super purposeful.” Despite this adjustment, Marut said the relationship between cast and crew has been “very supportive.”
Alam-Nist, who is a first-year liaison for the Yale Drama Coalition, said they aim to make Yale theater “open and accessible.” The team held two audition workshops to explain the process to first time actors — several of whom participated in the show, which is a “point of pride” for Alam-Nist. The team also hosted a shadowing program where students could follow production members for insights into theater’s technical and design elements.
“Since there’s fewer shows this semester, it was really important to everyone on the team to make sure that people were able to form connections and get insight into how a Yale theater show works,” Alam-Nist said.
In following the life of Trojan civilians during the war, the play echoes life during a pandemic.
“These themes of isolation are all very present in the play and have helped me think about my own experience this semester,” DeVito said.
Cameranesi said “Dominion” is indicative of how theater has changed and will continue to change. Not only is the show innovative because of its use of technology, but it also “confronts” and “responds” to traditional narratives in the Western canon, she added.
As actors step onto their Zoom stages this weekend, Marut said it is “really reassuring to know that theater is going to persevere, no matter how long COVID-19 lasts.”
Shows will take place each night at 7 p.m., with an additional afternoon show at 2 p.m. on Nov. 15.
Dominique Castanheira | email@example.com