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Theater community unites for After Orlando project

USC’s Oliver Mayer and other artists create short plays in response to the Florida tragedy

After Orlando logo
The USC School of Dramatic Arts has taken an innovative approach to the project. (Graphic/Jocelyn White)

On June 12, the nation’s deadliest mass shooting committed by a single perpetrator killed 50 patrons and wounded 53 others at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla.

Theater artists, who have historically close alliances with LGBTQ communities, responded by making art in historic fashion. Within weeks, two New York City-based production companies reached out to playwrights across the country to create short plays in response to the shootings. More than 70 playwrights responded, including USC School of Dramatic Arts Associate Dean Oliver Mayer.

These 70-plus plays, collectively called After Orlando, are being performed across the country this fall. Instead of presenting a single staged reading of the plays, as many theater companies and universities are doing, the USC School of Dramatic Arts has taken an innovative tack. It used its professional sound studio in the McClintock Building to have first-year MFA acting students record a dozen of the plays, which are available to be heard on a podcast through Dec. 11.

The plays, which vary in time from less than two minutes to six and a half minutes, cover searing, emotional issues — gun violence, anti-Latino prejudice, LGBTQ rights, Islamophobia — as well as personal responses to tragedy, such as a worried mother being unable to sleep and fast food employees providing boxes of chicken to blood donors. Source material included police radio transmissions from the massacre, phrases from victims’ obituaries published in the Orlando Sentinel and the playwrights’ rich imaginations.

Curated by Mayer and directed by guest artist Jason Aaron Goldberg, the recordings were done in September with the technical assistance of Philip G. Allen, the school’s program director in sound design, and three of his BFA sophomores – Dominic Torquato (recording engineer), Alysha Bermudez and Ethan Zeitman (sound effects). Dean David Bridel recorded introductions to each play.

The MFA acting students who voiced the plays are A.J. Clark, Briyana Guadalupe, Carlos Harrison, Natalia Leyva Lescano, Gabriel Leyva, Bukola Ogunmola, Akshaya Pattanayak, Zaire Martinez Roldan, Malachy Silva, Calahan Skogman, Tessa Hope Slovis and Brett Wyman.

Only in the course of the recording did the actors and professors learn that one of the students, Carlos Harrison, was a cousin of one of the Pulse victims, Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega. The two grew up together in Puerto Rico. At the time of his death, Vega was working in Florida for Telemundo, where he was on the staff of La Voz Kids, a popular singing competition.

Harrison had not told anyone of his connection to the tragedy before the recording. He said he knew it would be hard for him, but felt strongly that it was important for him to participate as a way to help heal.

Theater companies and universities were free to select from the dozens of plays to put together an evening of readings, as well as supplement with their own efforts. Upcoming staged readings of After Orlando in Southern California include:

Nov. 6: California State University, Long Beach

Nov. 7: San Diego Repertory Theatre, San Diego

Nov. 15: The Theatre@Boston Court Performing Arts Center, Pasadena

Dec. 5: The Road Theatre, Los Angeles

The production companies that organized After Orlando are NoPassport Theatre Alliance and Press, a company that uses wide-scale theatrical events to advocate for social causes, and Missing Bolts Productions, an independent film and stage production company.

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