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WU Theatre: students on The Memo's use of a made-up language, socially-distanced set and masks

Sanja Zelen

Staff writer

Outside the M. Lee Pelton Theatre, where The Memo was recorded and rehearsed. Photo by Rebecca May.


Willamette University’s fall play, The Memo, ran from Oct. 29 through Nov. 15, with a pre-recorded broadcast coming out soon. The Theatre Department provided students with the option to see the play in-person with social distancing and mask-wearing in place before the quiet period began on Nov. 11, as a live broadcast with a Youtube link or as a pre-recorded broadcast, which will be available from Nov. 20 through Nov. 30.


The Willamette Theatre Department described the play’s plot as: “Office life turns upside-down when it is forced to adopt a new language called Ptydepe, a “Newspeak” that is one part efficiency, one part goobledygook! This absurdist farce, set in a socially-distanced landscape, looks directly at how we control words – and how they control us” (Theater department).


Willamette students Spike Iverson (‘22) and John Campi (‘24) reflected on their experiences seeing the play, commenting on the play’s use of a made-up language, masks and cinematography, all while following COVID-19 protocols.


Iverson watched the play in person and as a livestream, while Campi saw the play in person. An in-person performance required adequate distancing between audience members. “The chairs were staggered so that everybody was at least six feet apart in the audience,” Iverson said, with Campi adding that “we were seated six feet apart, obviously, but [there were] chairs spread out in different areas.”


Iverson said that all of the seats were filled on opening night, but that they were the only person in the audience during the performance on Nov. 5.


“It was really cool just because I did props for The Memorandum and I was already friends with everybody, so after the curtain call, they were all like, “thanks Spike” and waved at me,” Iverson reflected. “I'm sure there were people who were live streaming but it was kind of a cool experience being the only person and then seeing the live stream.”


Campi detailed his experience, “I was at the very front which I felt a little awkward just sitting right up there, but it was cool, especially with the whole part where there were three different parts of the stage where each thing was going on,” referring to the various ways The Memo utilized the stage space.


Iverson watched the livestream of the play, sent out as a private Youtube link. They said that there were occasionally issues with the sound: “My partner's the lead. They said that their parents had live streamed the opening night show and had difficulty hearing things, like there are some actors who never actually face out toward the camera and who are never downstage and they're not as close to the cameras and microphones and because they're wearing masks, you can't really lip read.”


Campi said he had the same concern watching the in-person production: “I thought the biggest issue going into it would be [that] sometimes I wouldn't really be able to hear what they would be saying because I won't be able to read their lips. But actually it wasn’t that bad.”


Iverson found the mask requirement and livestream option to work in the play’s favor, unintentionally enhancing its plot: “They would show different camera angles depending on where the action on stage was taking place and I actually ended up noticing some things that I hadn't noticed before when I saw it live. The masks in the play were very interesting. I think that in a way they kind of added to it because the main message of the play is about the evils of bureaucracy and the homogenization of humanity basically into one corporate sterile environment. The masks, because they were all uniform, they all look the same and they were worn in tandem with business suits, like 16 business suits—that really kind of contributed to the atmosphere of the clinical business setting.”


Iverson gave their thoughts on the pre-recorded version of the play coming out: “[the] pre-recorded versions are taking so long to come out because they are doing subtitles for them, so that I think will probably enhance the viewer experience a lot when you're able to actually see what is being said.”


Iverson and Campi recommended the play to students, reporting that the digital version of The Memo didn’t take away from the in-person experience of seeing a play that most Willamette students have previously been used to. Tickets for the pre-recorded version available at the end of the month can be found on the Theatre department’s online store or by contacting the Box Office.

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