Theatre adapts, reflects, and, most importantly, survives. The industry is no stranger to abrupt closure when the unexpected happens. Shakespeare himself lived through several recurrences of the plague, writing through quarantine restrictions, and imagining the new stories, characters, and worlds that would go on to be celebrated for hundreds of years.
So it’s no surprise that Hamilton theatre students and faculty would also feel this deep drive to continue creating and exploring the show they have come to admire and appreciate.
I said to the students from the get-go that there were three things I wanted to do … I wanted to honor their work, I wanted to honor the script of Chekhov, and I wanted to honor everyone’s present moment.
The Seagull You Never Saw is the website created by faculty, staff, and students involved in the spring Theatre Department mainstage production The Seagull. Conceived of and built in the wake of Hamilton’s mid-semester switch to online classes, The Seagull You Never Saw is an interactive, multimedia website that features some 30 creative pieces inspired by Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull and the students’ current personal experiences. Ranging from videos to rap songs to drunk voicemails, it showcases the novel ways in which students think of, express, and connect to theatre.
“I said to the students from the get-go that there were three things I wanted to do … I wanted to honor their work, I wanted to honor the script of Chekhov, and I wanted to honor everyone’s present moment,” said Assistant Professor of Theatre Jeanne Willcoxon, who directed the production.
Spring mainstage production of Anton Chekov’s The Seagull
She came up with the idea for The Seagull You Never Saw after realizing that the show could not go on as planned. She pitched the concept to Jeff Larson, resident designer and production manager for theatre, and Sara Walsh, visiting assistant professor of theatre. “They seemed receptive to it, so then I thought, ‘This might work.’”
And it has. Ashley Huntington ’20, who played Masha in The Seagull, said, “Everyone wants to commit to this and create something, and I feel like I’ve understood Chekhov’s story even more than I may have back at school. I’ve found that, yes, my motivation for my academic work has been really bad, but my creative drive has never been stronger. … I’ve been shocked at my willingness to make some weird videos and sing and try to play some weird piano songs to incorporate in my own products.”
Every week the students responded to creative assignment prompts that required them to collaboratively and intimately expand on and relate to core concepts within The Seagull. Maggie Luddy ’20, assistant director, said she felt reassured by other students’ creations and reflections on their experiences during the pandemic. “I really do think that the themes that we’re presenting are so important right now. … Everyone just feels so alone, and this is such a beautiful way not just to connect to other people, but also to connect to another world,” she said.
The show’s lighting designer, Duncan Davies ’21, agreed. “We were able to create something truly unique that incorporated the current situation into this production,” he said. “I’m excited and happy to have something to show for our work and dedication to the production that has continued through the semester.”
In all, The Seagull You Never Saw serves as a testament to the students’ enthusiasm for theatre and dedication to the play and one another. As Maddie Cavallino ’21, the production’s stage manager, cues each card, the viewer becomes privy to a new theme prevalent in both The Seagull and students’ lives. The site’s amalgamation of student work and thought ultimately highlights the collaborative spirit fundamental to theatre, while also asking the audience to participate themselves intellectually and emotionally.
Willcoxon, amazed and humbled by the work the students, faculty, and staff have put into the project, is pleased with the website’s outcome and anticipates viewers’ interest in and relation to the final product.
“I never in my wildest dreams would have imagined doing something like this, ever. But I’m so happy we did it, and I’m so happy people went along for the ride,” she said.