Art has often been inspired by tragedy. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, tragedy abounds.
This year, UW’s Theatre and Performance program is producing scenes from ‘carried away on the crest of a wave,’ a play by David Yee that explores the aftermath of a global disaster and its impact on the global psyche.
In December, 2004, a massive earthquake struck off the coast of Sumatra, Indonesia, triggering the most deadly tsunami in recorded history.
The first waves hit Banda Aceh in the early morning. Water crashed down from 100-foot high peaks, killing more than 100,000 people and devastating the city’s infrastructure. Soon, coastlines across the Indian Ocean were overwhelmed as the tsunami spread out from its epicenter, hitting fourteen nations in two separate continents.
Yee’s work captures the desolation of the Indian Ocean tsunami and the resilience demonstrated by the world’s response to the event.
“His story is actually a collection of vignettes, so little stories, about the aftermath of how people lived with and lived through the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami,” Mira J. Henderson, Associate Director, of the production, explained.
Henderson is one of the Theatre and Performance senior capstone students who make up the core of the creative team. At the start of term, the students reviewed several plays before selecting ‘carried away on the crest of a wave’ for their final performance. Their choice was influenced by their experiences of living through the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We chose this one because it’s related to our situation right now,” Qing Wen, a member of the cast, said.
“I think it was true for all of us that wanted to do something where we could speak about the collective grief of a worldwide event like this, without directly doing something about the pandemic,” Henderson added.
Theatre and performance was one of a select few classes with in-person activity this term, after almost a year of working from home.
“As a theatre student, so much of our work is in person, so online learning has been really difficult for us, especially those who are finishing up our degrees,” Henderson noted. “I was hesitant at first, going back to campus, but there’s been an underlying sense of comfort, like okay, we’re able to navigate this, and do something we used to do.”
Still, the setting is unfamiliar. Numerous safety measures have been implemented to prevent the spread of COVID-19. These restrictions change the nature of the process.
The performances will have no in-person audience. Instead, the show will be recorded and live streamed. “It’s been a big pivot for us – bringing in the live streaming, making sure they’re up to speed, figuring out how this is going to work,” Henderson said.
Onstage, the experience is different too. “Actors will all be in masks,” Henderson said. “We’ve been working with our costume designers to find the best designs – we’re aiming to have a see through portion so you can see the actors’ mouths.”
Performers have also had to maintain six-feet of distance throughout the majority of the process. “At first it was difficult for me to keep a safe distance between the actors. It was very weird,” Wen said. “It’s kind of crazy for us, because we need to get used to maintaining distance but still acting together on stage. I feel like it’s an interesting experience, because you’re communicating with your partner but there’s a separation.”
Every moment of the show has been reviewed by safety experts.
“Every time we have a new transition, a new action, we need to go through the safety office and let them check if it’s possible for us to do it. We often need to come back and change it again,” Wen said.
The students have done an impressive job of navigating the new restrictions. Both Henderson and Wen emphasized the dedication their team has brought to the changing production.
These changes are a constant reminder that we are living through unprecedented events. A year ago, the world shut down. A year later, COVID-19 has claimed millions of lives and shaped billions more.
In the wake of the Indian Ocean tsunami, the world came together in mourning and in support.
The central message of ‘carried away on the crest of a wave’ – that we are all connected – is conveyed through a collection of seemingly disparate characters who have all been affected by the same catastrophic event.
COVID-19 has removed all uncertainty. Never before has the world been so interconnected. Never before has an event had such a global reach.
As we endure this seemingly universal tragedy, UW’s Theatre and Performance students have provided a space in which we can grapple with our collective pain and renew our hope in the world to come.
The performance will be live streamed on Mar. 25 at 11:30 a.m. and Mar. 26 and 27 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $10 for general entrance and $5 for students and seniors.
Visit uwcarriedaway.com to purchase tickets and learn more about the production.