Emmy Kreilkamp considered having “The Living” as one of the shows offered by Centralia College Theatre last year but she worried that a show about the plague might not be well received during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
And while we are still navigating the pandemic, Kreilkamp said the timing felt right to offer it to open the college’s 2021-2022 season.
“I chose this play because it was important to open the season with a play that speaks to our time and place,” Kreilkamp said. “This is a play about the Plague but as the title says, it is about those who survived and how they’ve been changed by the time spent during the Plague.”
“The Living” will open Nov. 12 in the Corbet Theatre on the Centralia College campus. It is the first in-person show for the college’s theatre program since the COVID pandemic closed theatres worldwide in March 2020. This year, Centralia College Theatre will have a three-show season that will also feature the comedy “Noises Off” Feb. 11-20 and revisit the COVID-cancelled “Into the Woods” for the spring musical May 13-22.
Based on the novel “A Journal of the Plague Years” by Daniel Defoe, “The Living” by Anthony Clarvoe is set in 1655 London and tells the story about the impact of the plague on both individuals and the community as a whole.
Some of the characters audience members meet include: John Graunt (portrayed by Hayden Bigelow) a scientist who acts as the narrator for the story; Sarah (portrayed by Alyssa Graves) a shopkeeper’s wife, whose entire family was killed by the plague; John Lawrence (portrayed by D. Douglas Lukascik) A mayor trying to put his city back together; Mrs. Elizabeth Finch (portrayed by Brianna Tomtan) a searcher of the dead; and Rev. Dr. Thomas Vincent (portrayed by John Pratt) a minister whose faith has been shaken.
Many in the cast of 10 portray more than one character, embodying the everyday people of the community including cabinet makers, smiths, watchmen and farmers. Through their stories, the audience hears about their isolation and despair, Kreilkamp said, but also their hope and even some humor, albeit gallows humor.
“Ultimately, it is a story of hope and how people help each other in times of extreme crisis,” Kreilkamp said.
The Centralia College production of “The Living” features a set is purposefully minimal to allow the audience to focus more on the characters and their stories.
“There are a lot of moments to hold onto, a lot of quiet and a lot of calm,” Graves said.
Though “The Living” is a step forward for a program that could not offer in-person theatrical productions last year, there are still some things that remain different because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Kreilkamp said how the play is staged works well for the safety of the cast because it is about another time in human history when people were socially distancing to control the spread of a virus, so characters stay at least at arm’s length from one another.
As is industry standard for theatres, the cast has rehearsed in masks and will perform without masks since they are able to be more than 20 feet away from the audience while on stage. Kreilkamp said rehearsing in masks has posed challenges for the cast, especially when it comes to projecting their voices, but it has also created some opportunities.
“It forces you to use other parts of your body other than your face to convey emotions,” Kreilkamp said.
Because of ongoing COVID restrictions, proof of vaccination and masking will be required for all audience members. Corbet Theatre will also be at limited capacity with family groups being able to sit with each other and socially distanced from other groups
“Because they’re going to be in a confined space for 90 minutes with others it was important for me to provide the audience with a safe space,” Kreilkamp said.
For those unable to physically attend for whatever reason, there will also be a streaming option available on Nov. 12, Nov. 14 and Nov. 20.
For the actors and actresses, another safe space has also occurred for them in the rehearsal process and that is in the ability to emotionally unpack the last year and a half together. Bigelow said working with a subject matter that so closely resembles the COVID-19 pandemic that we are still living in has been hard but he has also found hope in the stories they are telling.
“The whole production, it isn’t about the dead, it’s about the living and there’s some hope alongside them the whole time,” Bigelow said.
Graves added that getting to be together with their fellow actresses and actors again and to work through the subject matter together has been kind of a healing effect for her.
While they’re practicing heavy drama on stage, she said back stage they are often laughing and joking together.
“It can get really dark and it’s hard to pull away from it but it’s nice to have people to go through this with,” Graves said.
If You Go
What: Centralia College Theatre presents “The Living”
When: Nov. 12-14 and Nov. 19-21, 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. Special pay-what-you will performance 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 18
Where: Corbet Theatre in Washington Hall on the Centralia College campus
Cost: Adults $12, students/seniors $10. Proof of vaccination and masking required. Nov. 14 performance will be followed by a discussion with cast and crew. Free, online streaming available on Nov. 12, 14 and 20 at Zoom meeting ID 848 0328 9230
Information: Centralia.edu/theatre or @centraliacollegedrama on Facebook. Tickets can be purchased by calling the box office at (360) 623-8871