News

“Uncharted Waters,” first-of-its-kind virtual theatrical collaboration

Written by Karen L. Bystrom
January 22, 2021

Seattle University Theatre is joining forces with the undergraduate theatre training programs from Cornish College of the Arts and the University of Washington to present Uncharted Waters, a virtual tri-production of two plays: William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, and a new devised work, Bodies of Water, responding to the themes of Twelfth Night.

Three paper saliboats floating offshoreThe performances run online March 11 through 13. Tickets are free for all students and $5 for general admission, and go on sale February 11 through the UW Arts Ticket Office. Details and the link to tickets are available on the Uncharted Waters website.

The Uncharted Waters project will also host a virtual symposium on the future of Seattle theatre on Saturday, February 13 from 1:30 to 3 p.m. PST. Hosted by Seattle theatre-maker and educator Jay O’Leary-Woods, Co-Artistic Director of Sound Theatre Company, the symposium will feature local artists discussing their visions for our regional theatre scene and answering student questions about entering the profession. The symposium is free and open to the public. RSVP on the website.

Rosa Joshi, Chair of Seattle University’s Performing Arts and Arts Leadership programs, directs Twelfth Night. Joshi is an acclaimed director and adapter, and a co-founder of upstart crow collective, a company committed to presenting classical plays with diverse casts of women and non-binary people. Recently, Joshi directed Bring Down the House, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Henry VI trilogy, which she co-adapted with Kate Wisniewski and which ran to great acclaim in Seattle in 2017, and again at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2020.

Bodies of Water is co-directed by Porscha Shaw, an actor and teaching artist who is a graduate of UW’s Professional Actor Training Program (MFA Acting), and Sheila Daniels, a faculty member at Cornish College of the Arts. Shaw has been seen recently on Seattle stages as the title character in Saint Joan at ArtsWest, Sweet Thing in Nina Simone: Four Women at Seattle Rep, and as Lady Anne in upstart crow collective/Seattle Shakespeare Company’s production of Bring Down the House. Daniels, a 5-time nominee and 2-time recipient of the Theatre Puget Sound Gregory Award for Outstanding Director recently directed The Wolves at ACT Theatre, Wild Horses at Intiman Theatre, and Indecent at Seattle Rep.

Justin Huertas will compose original music for Twelfth Night. Huertas is a playwright, composer-lyricist, and actor whose recent works include Lizard Boy at Seattle Rep, The Last World Octopus Wrestling Champion at ArtsWest, and music and lyrics for Howl’s Moving Castle and The Lamplighter, both at Book-It Repertory Theatre. Musician, composer, and theatre-maker Steven Tran (A Very Merry Kraken Tea Party, The Last World Octopus Wrestling Champion, Public Works: Twelfth Night) is the music director for the production.

Both casts include undergraduate performers from all three schools, with production and design duties split between students, staff, and faculty from the four involved programs: Cornish College of the Arts Theater, Cornish College of the Arts Performance Production, Seattle University Theatre, and the University of Washington School of Drama Full Company List (all participants are students unless otherwise noted)

Twelfth Night

Creative Team:

  • Director: Rosa Joshi (Seattle University faculty)
  • Scenic/Environment Designer: Amiya Brown (Seattle University faculty, UW Drama alum)
  • Production Designer: Sophie Collins (Seattle University)
  • Environmental Designer: Reed Nakayama (Guest Artist, Cornish alum)
  • Sound Designer: Derek Jones (Seattle University)
  • Costume Designer: Rebecca Silva (Seattle University)
  • Composer: Justin Huertas (Guest Artist)
  • Music Director: Steven Tran (Guest Artist)
  • Stage Manager: Quinn Chase (Cornish College of the Arts)
  • Intimacy Director: Alyssa Kay (Guest Artist, UW Drama alum)
  • Text/Speech Director: Kate Wisniewski (Guest Artist)
  • Assistant Director: Kimberly Le (Seattle University)
  • Assistant Director: Levi Redmill (Cornish College of the Arts)
  • Assistant Costume Designer: Hannah Madgett (Seattle University)
  • Assistant Stage Manager: Larcyn Burnett (Cornish College of the Arts)
  • Assistant Stage Manager: Nicola Kraus (Seattle University)

Cast:

  • Feste the Fool: Alex Bailey (Seattle University) 
  • Orsino: Christopher Edwards (Cornish College of the Arts) 
  • Malvolio/Officer/Priest: Talia Rossi (Seattle University) 
  • Sir Andrew: Andy Ho (Seattle University) 
  • Sebastian: Astrid Fiverson  (University of Washington) 
  • Viola: Ariana Moore (Seattle University) 
  • Olivia: Nora Talaga (Seattle University) 
  • Maria/The Captain: Truxton Ivory (Cornish College of the Arts) 
  • Sir Toby: Cameron Widmark (Cornish College of the Arts) 
  • Antonia/Valentine: Taylor Freeman (University of Washington)

Bodies of Water

Creative Team:

  • Director: Porscha Shaw (Guest Artist, UW Drama alum)
  • Director: Sheila Daniels (Cornish College of the Arts faculty)
  • Sound Designer: Stephon Dorsey (Guest Artist)
  • Costume Designer: Isabella Harris (University of Washington)
  • Dramaturg: Sam Vasquez (Cornish College of the Arts)
  • Stage Manager: Stefania Giron Zuluaga (Seattle University)
  • Assistant Choreographer: Mallory Carbon (University of Washington)
  • Assistant Choreographer: Leah Sainz-Jones (Cornish College of the Arts)
  • Assistant Stage Manager: Emily Grierson (Cornish College of the Arts)
  • Assistant Stage Manager: Em Chan Dickson (University of Washington)

Ensemble:

  • Daniel Anson (Seattle University)
  • Mallory Carbon (University of Washington)
  • Gabe Fitzpatrick (Cornish College of the Arts)
  • Franco (Cornish College of the Arts)
  • Lily Noto (Seattle University)
  • Leah Sainz-Jones (Cornish College of the Arts)
  • Hannah Saito (University of Washington)
  • Samantha Vasquez (Cornish College of the Arts)
  • Christie Zhao (University of Washington)

About the Project

The project came about when three of the programs’ heads—Seattle University’s Joshi, Cornish’s Richard E.T. White, and UW’s Geoff Korf—began meeting informally last spring to swap ideas and provide support to one another as each program attempted to meet the enormous challenges of teaching theatre in a pandemic.

“There have been these famous examples,” says Korf, “of great new productions being born out of really difficult, seemingly insurmountable challenges to a theatre company or artist. It’s always stuck with me how ‘big thinking’ in times of extreme challenge can help an artist through. The idea of having our three schools collaborate during this time when so many artists and companies felt forced to shrink or huddle in place, was really born from that spirit of making deep and often very risky commitments to something artistically ambitious. Sometimes, despite the challenge, you get a gut feeling that it’s the right thing...that it’s massive...bigger than any of us know how to handle, but you know it’s the right idea. I think remarkably, Rosa, Richard, and I somehow each recognized it together.”

“What really inspires me is that we are not just ‘making do’ in this new virtual realm, we are embracing the challenge and reframing it as an opportunity,” says Joshi. “And I hope that will in turn inspire our students to imagine the possibilities of making art in these challenging times. The ‘virtualness’ of this project has created a shared platform for us to learn from each other, and for our students to come together in an expanded community that would have actually been more difficult to realize in person. In the face of the extreme isolation that COVID has forced upon us, we’re reimagining ways to create community and connection.”

Alumni of these three schools are deeply integrated into the fabric of our regional theatre community, but these programs have never before collaborated on a shared production. One hope of this project is that it will give Seattle’s future theatre professionals a head start on building the community that will support, sustain, and inspire them when they leave school. These students will graduate into perhaps the most uncertain landscape our industry has ever seen. They will have the burden and the opportunity of figuring out what theatre should be and do in a post-pandemic world, and for that they are going to need one another.

About the Productions

The project was conceived from the start as two productions—a Shakespeare play and a devised, ensemble-generated work—to maximize student opportunities and offer different-but-complementary learning experiences.

On the choice of Twelfth Night Joshi shares, “Twelfth Night seemed to be a perfect vehicle to provide a welcome shot of joy in these socially distanced days as we are all huddled in our homes. This buoyant and poignant comedy about identity and the need to connect, makes us think about our basic human need to know each other and ourselves more deeply.”

Reflecting on the goals of the devised piece, Bodies of Water, Co-Director Porscha Shaw shares, “I think ensemble generated work is important in this time for so many reasons. It creates community when we are in our most isolated state. It promotes vulnerability and provides a space for it despite Zoom and other video platforms seeming far from natural. Most importantly, it gives creative power back to the performer, which theatre has almost lost.”

“We are building the piece like a scrapbook,” adds Co-Director Sheila Daniels, “and are interested in the ways the events of the country's dual pandemics are affecting bodies—how we see our own and each other’s bodies, how we experience harm to our own and each other’s bodies, and how we care for our own and each other’s bodies.”

The production will be rehearsed and presented entirely online. Students will work with their own technology as well as gear provided by the schools. Designers will deliver materials to students’ homes and work remotely with the performers to execute their designs.

“One thing that’s a high priority for us,” says Ryan Gastelum, Production Manager at the UW School of Drama, “is supporting students where they are.” Some of the students, for example, are not currently in Seattle. “Having to come to a location is not a prerequisite for participating in this project.”

The project is supported by funding from the three schools, including grants from the Floyd and Delores Jones Endowed Fund for the Arts at the University of Washington and the Pigott Family Endowment for the Arts at Seattle University.

“The COVID-19 crisis has already inspired theater artists to move beyond the conventional bound of the stage,” says Cornish Theater Department Chair Richard E.T. White. “At Cornish this spring, theater and performance production students presented a variety of digital performance projects from cabarets to devised movement, from clown solo performances to a cast album of songs recorded separately and mixed together, from Zoom-based scene work to digital design and stage management portfolios.

 “That was a thrillingly quick reaction to a seismic shift in circumstances. Now we need to move forward with intentionality. This project will allow students and faculty to develop skills and resources in new formats that will help further define the possibilities of the art form.”