When Elisha Miranda, chair of San José State’s Film and Theatre Department, saw Assistant Professor of Theatre Arts Kirsten Brandt at the Hammer Theatre Center for the first time in more than a year, she felt like crying. Though they had collaborated closely on many creative projects over the past year, they had yet to work together face-to-face.
They came together in person in March 2021 to collaborate on “Alone Together,” a series of plays and monologues written during and about the pandemic. The production is the department’s first in-person performance on the Hammer stage, which will be performed by SJSU actors and livestreamed by Film and Theatre Lecturer Christine Guzzetta, ’86 Radio, Television, Video and Film (RTVF).
“COVID is a universal issue, though it has impacted different communities in different ways,” said Miranda, who is the show’s co-producer with Barnaby Dallas, SJSU’s director of production for film and theatre.
“Even with our students in “Alone Together,” COVID has become the universal fulcrum that ties us all together and makes us stronger storytellers, more accountable educators and artists.”
Film and Theatre Lecturer Oluchi Nwokocha, ’12 Theatre Arts, is directing the evening, which features eight short plays and monologues written by professional and distinguished playwrights who were commissioned by UC Santa Barbara’s LAUNCH PAD program in spring 2020: Jami Brandi, Anne García-Romero, Lynn Rosen, Enid Graham, Brian Otaño and Arlene Hutton.
“‘Alone Together’ deals with all the emotions that we have been going through during this time, either with our partners or with ourselves, friends or family,” said Nwokocha.
“It’s very funny. I think it’s actually pretty cathartic.”
“With so much death and so much decay happening in the world, knowing that we can create art out of this has been really important,” said Brandt, who is the play’s artistic director.
Because the plays were written during the pandemic, stage directions recognize the need for actors to socially distance themselves on stage. Most of the pieces are performed by one or two actors to allow them to stay six feet apart.
In addition, cast and crew are required to comply with strict COVID-19 protocols inside the theater.
Performing pandemic challenges in real time
For Nayeli Roman, ’24 RTVF, “Alone Together” is her first time performing at the Hammer—and her first time performing beyond the confines of her computer screen in over a year.
During her first semester at SJSU, she performed in “Betty’s Garage,” a radio play adapted by Miranda, and co-wrote a play inspired by folk tales that was produced remotely as part of Brandt’s fall show, “Mementos: Tales for a New Century.” The first time she approached the Hammer Theatre Center in person to buzz inside and rehearse, Roman filmed her entrance on her cell phone—it was that surreal, she recalled.
“All of our creativity is heightened because we are trying to recreate how we perform theater,” said Roman, who plays lead characters in two of the short plays.
“It was wonderful to see how the sets were built, how our director Oluchi has directed our movements. It almost feels like we’re not doing it all on purpose to keep each other safe. After a year of not being able to perform in person, it reminded me of how much I love theater—the lighting, the excitement, the collaboration. It’s almost indescribable.”
The monologues and vignettes tackle the plight of essential workers, the anxiety and angst of living through a pandemic and even the humor of the unexpected. For example, in “Neither Here Nor There,” Roman plays Katie, an undergraduate in Florida who tries to catch up with her college roommate over Zoom and discovers just how different their lives are.
The magic of “Alone Together,” Roman said, is the opportunity to inhabit characters who are living through many of the same experiences that she has as a college freshman making the most of school during a global pandemic.
“‘Alone Together’ not only expresses how the pandemic has become a setback to society but how it is opening new doors to the future,” said Roman.
“It is teaching us important lessons—reminding us not to take things for granted. This is the beginning of our new normal.”
“Alone Together” is being livestreamed from the Hammer at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 24.
Tickets are free for students and $10 for general admission.
To learn more, visit hammertheatre.com/events-list.