Instructors, students quickly change direction after pandemic cancels play
When COVID-19 halted production of the full-length play “Stop Kiss,” Estrella Mountain Community College’s (EMCC) Theater Production class had to improvise.
“It was a huge disappointment for our students and us to not have anything to show after all of the work we had done, and for some of our students, “Stop Kiss” was a culmination of their theater career at EMCC,” said Megan Rini, Arts & Composition Adjunct Faculty and the play’s director. “After a brainstorming session, we determined that we needed to do something for them.”
With the spring semester quickly coming to a close, Megan and her Adjunct Faculty counterparts, Chrissy and Jonathan Ziese, developed a process for creating a devised script and schedule, and “Burying the Lead” was born.
“Burying the Lead” is a feature film following the story of Diana and Nate, two college students who meet in an online communications class project and grow to develop a deeper relationship. As Diana and Nate get to know each other over the course of a semester, their pasts are revealed and they find themselves at a point of no return where a decision must be made that could have lasting and far-reaching consequences. Visit https://youtu.be/arZpIR2IFmI to watch the trailer.
“There is crime and intrigue, romance and comedy, drama and heartache in this devised piece created during, and featuring, the Coronavirus pandemic,” Megan said.
Cierra Torres, who will graduate from EMCC this winter and go on to Arizona State University for her bachelor’s in Theatre, plays Diana.
“I personally have not had any film experience, and with that being said, I feel very fortunate to have been cast as a lead in this film,” she said. “I have only ever performed on stage, but have been eager to work in front of a camera. It was definitely a challenge, but so rewarding and I personally learned a lot and grew an appreciation for film actors.”
Cierra said the best thing about working on “Burying the Lead” was pouring the energy she had into a creative format and telling a story that everyone was relating to.
“It was during a time where I was still adapting to this new way of living and it was almost therapeutic in a way to be able to go to these zoom meetings three days a week and talk about it, talk about our new normal, and how these characters would be living with it,” she said.
Collaboration was crucial to the project’s success. Fortunately, all three instructors went to the same grad school in New York City — The New School for Drama — and have been working together for years.
“Since we all attended graduate school together, we all spoke the same ‘language,’” Chrissy said. “Therefore, collaboration came a little easier to us than others in this situation.”
The compressed timeline, however, presented some difficulties, but faculty and students alike were up for the challenge.
“Merely completing the first draft of a screenplay this length can take a month,” Jonathan said. “It took a lot of work, not only from the faculty but also from the students. They should be proud of the finished product even if it had taken a year to come together, but they should be floored at how fast they were able to pull it together.”
The film is in the final editing stages with the release date set for the next month or so. When complete, it should be about an hour long.
“I am so proud and impressed with my students,” Megan said. “It was heartbreaking to have to cancel “Stop Kiss,” but knowing that they had the determination, flexibility, and talent to embark on a project that was unknown, uncertain, and at times confusing for them — in the midst of a pandemic no less — and come out on the other side with brilliant, thoughtful, and highly enjoyable work is something I will never forget.”
The fall Theater Production course will produce another film by a very similar method and with insight from last semester to improve the process. With the additional time, students will be more involved with the post-production process, something Megan and her husband, Adam, who has film editing experience, have been toiling over in their spare time since filming completed April 30.
“We are all very excited to be able to try this process again,” Chrissy said. “But with a much more ideal timeline of three months rather than three weeks and really see what our students come up with this time around.”
To learn more about EMCC’s Performing Arts/Theatre program, visit https://www.estrellamountain.edu/programs/performing-arts-theatre. Registration for the Fall 2020 semester is currently underway. EMCC offers a variety of associate degrees and certificates. It also partners closely with several schools including Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University, and University of Arizona, for transfer programs. Classes can be taken in person, online, or in a hybrid format. To begin your journey, visit https://www.estrellamountain.edu/students/enrollment-steps.