Ashley’s Online

Premier of The Ashley Plays @ Home on YouTube, featuring playwright Samantha Uhl as she is performing her original Ashley monodrama. (Courtesy of York’s School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design / Provided by Céleste A. LaCroix)

On Sunday, October 25, Theatre@York presented its first show of the 2020-2021 season.

The Ashley Plays are a series of short, original site-specific monodramas written and performed by the playwrights in THEA 4290: Playwriting & New Play Dramaturgy as an assignment and as a showcase of their work,” says Dr. Judith Rudakoff. “In collaboration with class dramaturgs and me, the playwrights create and evolve a play about a central character named ‘Ashley’.”

Rudakoff teaches the third- and fourth-year Playwriting and New Play Dramaturgy classes in the department of theatre and has facilitated The Ashley Plays as part of these courses for two decades.

“Each playwright has the artistic freedom to develop their own Ashley character. The playwrights are assigned a specific location (or site) in which their play takes place. Typically, the sites are located in the Centre for Film & Theatre, and on performance day, groups of audience members are led from site to site to view the cycle of plays,” says Rudakoff.

According to Rudakoff, due to the pandemic, this year’s plays were forced to move online where each playwright’s setting was their bedroom in March/April 2020 during the first wave of the pandemic. 

“The plays are not about the pandemic, but rather, they live in the pandemic, reflecting a world that is unlike anything we are used to experiencing.”

   “The plays are not about the pandemic, but rather, they live in the pandemic, reflecting a world that is unlike anything we are used to experiencing.”

Melanie Thompson, third-year theatre student and THEA 4290 playwright, reflects on writing and performing a piece that takes place in her own bedroom.

“As I began the writing process, I realized that I had significantly more freedom in building the world of my Ashley now that her performance would take place online. I had the option of adjusting my bedroom to suit my Ashley’s narrative as I saw fit, and this gave me much more freedom in finding a story for my physical location — I was no longer obligated to situate myself at the university campus,” says Thompson.

The collective seemed to view the movement to virtual performances as an incredible learning opportunity rather than a hindrance. 

“While the playwrights lost the experience of performing their plays in intimate settings, for a small audience, they gained a whole new experience in online audience engagement,” Rudakoff says.

An exciting element of this online production was the audience’s ability to react and comment through the chat feature that was available on YouTube where the performance was streamed. Attendees were immersed and able to interact with the performance in ways that live theatre doesn’t permit.

The Ashley Plays @ Home were truly a transformative experience dramaturgically. One of the core directives we had going into it was a determination not to think of the digital format required by the pandemic as a consolation for our usual in-person event. Rather, we wanted to focus on the pandemic and the challenges it offered as an opportunity to do something new (for us) and based on something very current,” says Gunes Agduk, a third-year theatre student, dramaturg and editor/compiler for the video performance creation process. 

Sadie Wells Liddy, a fourth-year theatre student, is one of many who tuned in to The Ashley Plays @ Home to support the York theatre community. “I enjoyed the production — I thought the transitions in between each piece went great. I loved the diversity in stories and the use of each individual’s space.”

Wells Liddy comments on experiencing virtual theatre.

“I specifically find the accessibility of online performances an incredible step forward. I think online performances are also taking an important step toward integrating technology with theatre.”

Rudakoff and her army of emerging theatre artists, unphased by the transformation of theatrical platforms, produced an incredible performance last Sunday and are a clear sign of brilliant work to come.

About the Author

By Céleste A. LaCroix

Arts Editor

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