Theater in the Zoom Era with Cleopatra Mavhunga

Cleopatra Mavhunga, TD ’23, is an actress and director. She is a rising junior in Timothy Dwight College and a Theater & Performance Studies and English double major. Currently, Mavhunga is directing Kore, a play written and produced by KG Montes, GH ’22. It is an original retelling of the Persephone myth with an exploration of trauma and self-transformation.

Liney Kindler: How did you start doing theater?

Cleopatra Mavhunga: I started doing theater in first grade, when I played a cow in a school play. I began to take theater seriously during my sophomore year of high school, when I was cast in a popular show. That’s where I picked up a lot of the tools that I still use to this day. 

When I got to Yale, I was surprised by how the theater culture was less intense compared to my high school. Yale’s environment let me be a lot more creative and focus less on technique and more on enjoying theater. It was the first time I saw myself being anything but an actor. And that’s when I started directing.

LK: So you think the flexibility of Yale allowed you to occupy different roles?

CM: I think it’s more about the ability to even do that here. For example, if you have a show you want to put up, you can get a Creative and Performing Arts Award (CPA) to do it.

LK: Can you tell me more about the logistics behind creating a show?

CM: The three main ways that a show will go up are: 1) It’s a Dramat production. 2) You receive a CPA grant from a residential college. 3) It’s a senior thesis. They all have their own different paths, but I’m most familiar with the Dramat’s.

LK: Tell me about your current project, Kore. Take me into the world of online theater.

CM: Zoom theater is very interesting. Time zones are the biggest roadblock, even more than Zoom itself. Connectivity-wise we’ve been doing fine. But generally, it’s a lot of re-manipulation of the script. For example, it’s better to have longer lines than to have dialogue so you don’t run the risk of an actor being cut off by bad internet  connection. Dealing with stage directions is also difficult because what do you do with them?

LK: Are there any stage directions?

CM: They’re there. We’ll find out what to do with them. For auditions and callbacks, they’ve been taken out. And that’s mainly a directorial choice because I want to see what people’s instincts are. 

For the stage directions, we’re more so playing with imagery and emotion. Because this is a heavy play, we’re doing a lot of substitution. And it’s working very well. I do value the physical movement of acting though. So we’ll be practicing doing everything standing as well, such as  in order to simulate being in a rehearsal room. 

Virtual theater isn’t as difficult as I thought it would be, however. The parts that are difficult were not what I was expecting. I wasn’t expecting to be tired from being in front of my computer. That completely blindsided me. But performance-wise, it’s so interesting. This will be a radio play, so during the audition we had people turn off their camera. Having that free up your imagination is such a benefit. Especially for something like this which is a Greek show, you can actually visualize the underworld as wild and crazy as you imagine it without being confined to a stage.

Another great thing about a radio play is that I don’t need anybody to be off-book. Also, the timeline that we would’ve needed is much shorter since we don’t have to stage anything.

LK: What do you envision the final product to look and sound like?

CM: It might take on the form of a podcast. We’re also looking into animation.

LK: Will it be performed live?

CM: We’re recording it, which means we can do sound mixing. It’ll really help with building the world of the play. I already have some nature-scape and hell-fireish sounds in mind in order to create this underworld effect. 

LK: What’s the timeline?

CM: We’re in the September casting cycle. So the show will be fully casted by Sunday, the 20th. 

For more information on Kore, contact the producer, KG Montes at kyra.montes@yale.edu

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