By Luis Castilla
In its first production in the Black Box Theater in two years, the Theater Arts Department adapts Aristophanes’ 414 B.C. Greek play “The Birds” co-directed by Vanessa Pellegrini and Joseph Darby.
Pellegrini said after two years of remote learning, she wanted to do something that could not be done on Zoom.
“The Theater Arts Department has not stopped since we went online,” Pellegrini said. “We continually produce two shows a semester.”
This is the department’s first show where everyone on the production team is back in-person. Pellegrini said many of the students in the upcoming play have never been in a show before. “This is exciting. We’re building back with some fresh faces,” Pellegrini said.
Pellegrini said the cast has not rehearsed the play without masks. “It’s a very physical show so we get winded,” Pellegrini said. “They’ve definitely gotten in shape doing this show because there’s a lot of movement, but we have to keep our masks on the whole time.”
The cast has undergone regular COVID-19 testing and must have a negative test in order to take their masks off for makeup. Pellegrini said performing with a mask on was like training for the Olympics at a high altitude. “If we could do it with masks on, we’re gonna be golden,” Pellegrini said.
The play features many puppeteered birds designed by Will Pellegrini and built by students. Each took about three weeks to make and another week to tweak.
Pellegrini said “The Birds” covers escapist themes. “Aristophanes was talking about getting away from Earth and going to a better place,” Pellegrini said.
“It begs the question of whether humans can ever not be greedy,” Pellegrini said.
The version of the play the Theater Arts Department is performing is a 2021 adaptation by Gabriel Vega Weissman and Brian Reno. She said the original play addressed the politics of the time which is why it does not translate well for modern audiences.
“They just take what he (Aristophanes) had and then totally make it referenced to today,” Pellegrini said. “What I love is in the beginning of the play, they say, ‘This is like SNL meets mad libs.’”
The 2021 adaptation of “The Birds” uses famous people as stand-ins for characters in the original. Pellegrini said the department swapped out those famous people for others they felt were more relevant to their community.
Because “The Birds” is the department’s first show back in the Black Box Theater, it is also the first time it will be selling tickets for its shows.
“The Birds” will be performed in the P2 Black Box Theater at 8 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and March 24-26. The show will have matinees at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Sunday and March 26. Tickets cost $8 for ASU members, $10 for general admission and $12 at the door and are sold at www.elactheater.org.