Theater Department explores timely themes in recorded performance of “Wayfinding”
Through March 27, Willamette’s Theater Department is streaming “Wayfinding,” a play that incorporates magical elements into an exploration of how people deal with loss and other trials of life. The performance, directed by guest artist Lava Alapai, was recorded (instead of hosting live performances) in response to the increase of COVID-19 cases due to the Omicron variant.
“Wayfinding” is aptly named, as the plot centers around Jane, a woman dealing with survivor’s guilt, and couple Les and Harrison as they struggle with the implications of their upcoming marriage. The three are brought together by a plane crash and a magical forest that allows them to reexamine what they want out of their lives.
The performance certainly lends itself well to the recorded format, largely due to the number of dramatic scenes that benefit from added sound and other editing effects. Additionally, changes in angles give the audience the impression of the characters being precariously balanced high above the audience, deep within the panic of flames, tossed around in a falling airplane and being surrounded by a swarm of news reporters.
Though from the audience’s view it may seem as if “Wayfinding” is at its best in the recorded format, Alapai believes, like any performance, the play would have benefitted from a live audience. She cited the challenges of making certain adaptations for the video, including large switches in perspective and orientation, but noted that “everyone learned very quickly,” so it wasn’t too difficult.
Spike Iverson (‘23), who plays Les, stated that the transition to video did present some challenges for the actors: “We really thrive off the audience reactions to [know that] something is funny or a really impactful moment. The knowledge that people are there watching us…it's often a big motivator for continuing to give it your all.”
The differences between stage acting and performing for a camera were also difficult. Iverson added, “There are differences in ways that you act for stage versus for camera, because when you’re on stage...you have to make it so the furthest person in the furthest row back can see and hear you. Everything is a lot more exaggerated than it is on camera…A lot of us, coming from a stage acting background, were having to kind of adjust to being smaller and not having to worry about filling a stage with our presence.”
Nevertheless, the final results of the play are certainly impressive. Brady McDevitt (‘22), who plays Jane, was very pleased with the recording: “We watched [Wayfinding] and my housemates actually forgot it was Willamette students and watched it like it was a movie, which made me really proud. It felt real to them.” Indeed, when one watches the performance it's easy to be swept up in the dramatic imagery and suspenseful moments.
The somewhat fantastical plot of “Wayfinding” is certainly also a factor that helps to capture the audience. Alapai described the supernatural element of the show as being a big draw for her: “[The script] had that sort of [magical-realism] bend to it…I really kind of came into it in a way like ‘Oh this a show about the little decisions that you make in life [that] really steer you in one big path or another,’ and I think that’s really what spoke to me at first.”
However, despite the fantasy elements of the performance, “Wayfinding” also explores serious themes that McDevitt called “really intense.” She added, “I’ve never personally played a character like Jane [who has] elements of suicidal ideation and loses all these people in her life, which I think is something a lot of people can relate to right now...it’s a story that is relatively relatable for people going through hard times during COVID.”
McDevitt stated that the relatability was a deliberate choice on the part of Willamette’s Theater Department, intended to resonate with those who view it. Indeed, “Wayfinding” has the potential to be impactful, both due to the immersiveness of the recorded format, and due to the timeliness of the content. Those who are able certainly should take advantage of the accessibility to enjoy the play’s creative, genuine interpretation of human struggle.
“Wayfinding” is streaming through March 27, with tickets available to purchase through the Willamette Theater Department. Those who watch the performance should be aware of the content, which includes medical trauma, mental illness, suicide and sudden death.