BFA Theater Department’s New Student-Led Venture

The+writers%27+team+meets+over+Zoom+to+discuss+the+final+edits+of+their+film+script.+Top+row+left+to+right%3A+Emily+Parent+%2822%27%29%2C+Madi+Gagner+%2823%27%29%2C+and+Connor+Powell+%2822%27%29.+Bottom+row+left+to+right%3A+Rebekah+Dalmer+%2823%27%29%2C+Charlotte+Pierce+%2823%27%29+and+Emily+Farrell+%2823%27%29.+Photo+credit%3A+Emily+Parent+

The writers’ team meets over Zoom to discuss the final edits of their film script. Top row left to right: Emily Parent (22′), Madi Gagner (23′), and Connor Powell (22′). Bottom row left to right: Rebekah Dalmer (23′), Charlotte Pierce (23′) and Emily Farrell (23′). Photo credit: Emily Parent

Emily Parent, Writer

It’s no secret that after-school enrichment programs have been hit hard by the worldwide pandemic of 2020. Many activities within BFA have had to rapidly adapt to the ever-changing regulations put in place by the school, state and national government. The theater department is an after school program that was hit hard by said new restrictions. Throughout the confusion, and sadness for what they are no longer able to do, there is a group of students who have dedicated the past three months to creating a new creative outlet for the department. 

Starting in August, students would normally be diving into their fall musical. However, with the inability to sing and dance inside of the school building and limited stage space to social distance, the idea of a fall musical in 2020 became too unsafe and was scrapped. Without the musical, students yearned for something to fill the void. Theater Council Secretary Isabella Bonasera (21’) is a dedicated actress. She has been looking forward to landing a leading role in the fall musical her senior year since she was a freshman. When asked how she felt about the removal of the musical this year, Bella said, “The musical was the big hurray of the theater program, and it brought a lot of people together. Whether [they were] actors, techies or costume design, we were together for hours on end all collaborating on something that brought us all happiness. [COVID-19 restrictions] really set the tone of how theater was going to go [for the] year. … It kind of feels like not being able to see your family. And it’s even harder on the seniors in the program as we’ve worked our butts off the past 4 years to get where we are today, and to have COVID take it all away from us really broke my heart.” 

Though she felt a sense of heartbreak over the loss of the musical, Bonasera did have another idea for the theater department. “I was talking to one of my friends one day, who is also interested in film, and we were making jokes about making our own Hallmark movie. … I brought it to the Theater Council as something we could do as we wouldn’t have our big musical, or one act, this year. The Council liked the idea, and it grew from a stupid Hallmark COVID Christmas idea to a horror movie.” Bonasera’s idea, for students to create a full-length feature film written, directed, performed and edited by students, was given the go ahead by Theater Council, and Theater Council’s adviser, Susan Palmer, to begin. 

The Theater Council decided that the best way to find the most talented writers in theater was through a simple Google Form.  The writing team, composed of Madi Gagner (23’), Rebekah Dalmer (23’), Charlotte Pierce (23’) and Emily Farrell (23’) act under the duel leadership team of Emily Parent (22’) and Connor Powell (22’). They have spent the last three months completing several drafts of the script for their film. Gagner explained why the choice to create a movie was made, “We can’t exactly do any staged performances; we couldn’t do a musical this fall like we would normally do. Filming with a small cast and a small crew would be a good way to still put [theater performances] out into the community without breaking any health guidelines.” 

In their first Zoom meeting, students decided on a genre for the movie and used the following three meetings to build characters and overarching story elements. In a typical meeting, Parent and Powell ran through an agenda of talking points about what progress they were seeing and pointers for the week. They ended each meeting by sending students off with a scene of the film to write. Each student was given a bullet-point list with the main plot points of the scene and had four days to turn in their first draft. At this point, Parent and Power poured over the drafts, suggesting edits in order for all the scenes to fit together like a puzzle. The drafts were sent back to the writers, who then had three days to submit the final copy of the scene with new edits. This process was repeated until all of the scenes were written and ready to be compiled. Gagner summed up the narrative of the film:  “We are writing a movie, and it is about these six kids. They are stuck in a school because of a snowstorm.” 

Powell has also assumed the role of Co-editor along with Parent. “In a typical editors’ meeting, we get together and decide what we want to address on that certain day:  what we are looking to fix in the script. In a brainstorming session, we figure out how we want to fix these problems, and what we want to do about it. The last step is going into the script and editing, revising and fixing,” said Powell. Typically, the “problems” in the script are, “Sometimes super simple stuff like grammar, spelling, formatting. Sometimes certain themes in the story don’t line up, or certain writers have written characters different, in ways that clash. There are also plot holes; all that stuff is what needs to be fixed,” said Powell. 

Students have made a huge commitment to being a part of the writing and editing team. Gagner said she spent a little over an hour writing her portion of the script. This, coupled with the weekly meeting, adds up, pointing to the dedication students have for this new project. When asked how long he has spent on this project, Powell said, “Wow, it must be at least 30 to 35 hours by now. That’s not even counting what it will be when we [ Parent and Powell] start directing.” Powell meets with Parent over Zoom almost three times a week, working around their already busy schedules. “Again, I’d just like to emphasize the amount of time that goes into writing a script. Me and Emily [Parent], combined, have put in at least 60-70 hours into just editing the script, which is not even considering all of the writers that have put time into developing their parts of the script,” Powell added.

When asked if the film has helped fill the gap the musical left, Gagner said, “I look forward to the [writers’] meetings the same way I would look forward to [musical] rehearsals. [Script writing] has given me more creative reigns. I don’t get to write the script for the shows that we do at BFA; I just read it, and I do it.” 

This film has become an integral part of the students’ lives.  It has provided a way for students to connect with one another and work collaboratively in times where many feel more disconnected than ever. Gagner recognizes the opportunities that this film has brought her.  “It’s nice to just get [theater performances] in the community and not just stop [performing] completely. In March, we stopped everything really, all we were doing was classes. It’s nice to be getting back into doing those things and having a busy schedule, which, believe it or not, I really need,” Gagner said.  The writing and editing teams are already looking forward to the next steps of the filmmaking process and are even more excited to be able to share the movie in 2021.