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Isolation as Inspiration


The COVID-19 quarantine was often defined by feelings of boredom, loneliness, and anxiety. But for David Li ’24, the slog of pandemic “Blursdays” gave way to something far more positive: artistic inspiration. This summer, Li will be working on a dramatization of the quarantine experience through an Emerson project titled “Time(s) Out of Joint: Dramatizing Time Perceived in Social Isolation.” 

The project has its roots in Professor Craig Latrell’s Introduction to Theatre course, which Li took last semester. Li was interested in the representation of time in theatrical productions. “There’s the real time, which is the duration of the performance for the audience,” he said. “And then there’s the dramatic time that happens on stage … it can go forward, backward, do jump cuts of various kinds, have flashbacks. So, there are multiple things you can do with [time].”

With the flexibility of dramatic time in mind, Li found there to be a topical resonance with the experience of quarantining. Staying inside “obviously had an enormous impact on how we perceive time,” he said. “I thought that that was kind of interesting — how the pandemic brought the time, as a perception, to the forefront of the public consciousness.”   

About david li '24

Major: Undeclared

Hometown: Shanghai, China

High School: Shanghai Foreign Language School

read about other student research 

Ultimately, Li will complete a script, which he may then adapt into a performance next semester. He said that he is still in the preliminary stage of the project, which constitutes reviewing “existing plays that play with time.” These include Harold Pinter’s Old Times and Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, plays that were suggested as starting points for Li by Latrell, his adviser. 

In these plays, Li said, the nonlinear chronology of events function to “disorientate the audience” — an effect he believes to be reflective of the quarantine experience. The next step, said Li, will be to “talk about [the plays] in-depth with Latrell and then come up with my proposal for the play.”

Li came up with a rough vision for his play during a 14-day quarantine period last summer. “I had this idea of writing 14 scenes, all in this single location of a hotel room, and then rearranging them so they appear in random order,” he said. “It’s going to be one character in a room, and his main quest is just to kind of stay sane.” But with the project still in its infancy, Li made clear that the direction of the story is hardly set in stone.

Though the more immediate inspiration for Li’s summer work came in the past few months, theatre has “definitely been a long-term interest,” he said. In high school, he was in the drama club, and as a child, he was involved with extracurricular musical theatre. At Hamilton, he hopes to continue his study of drama, but is also keen to leave his options open. “I haven’t decided [on a concentration] yet,” he laughed. “But I guess I am leaning more toward the creative arts or social sciences or something like that.”

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