“Breathe: Portraits from a Pandemic” is virtual theatre for the COVID-19 Age

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Department of music and theatre

“Breathe: Portraits from a Pandemic” streamed on Oct. 28. Poster by Matthew Stone. Courtesy of the department of music and theatre.

“Breathe: Portraits from a Pandemic” is a new video-on-demand play from Chico State’s department of music and theatre that tells the stories of people’s experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic, interspersed with clips of news coverage of the pandemic.

The play was directed by assistant professor of dance Megan Glynn Zollinger, associate professor of musical theatre Matthew Teague Miller and Chico State student Demondra Martin. It was written by Jodi Picoult and Chico State alumnus Timothy Allen McDonald.

The entire play was filmed with split-screens of each actor, as they were all in different locations. The stage directions were read by a narrator since the actors were not together in person. There were minimal props and no stage to work with.

“Our goal was trying to make theatre with the physical limitations that were mandated by the whole university system,” Miller said. “So, the choice to do it online wasn’t as much choice as it was us making the best of the hand that we’ve been dealt.”

The play is split into five sections and focuses on 10 characters in total, with each part of the play focusing on two characters in a scenario.

Each part of the play is named after a symptom of the virus, such as “fatigue” and “shortness of breath.”

Allison (Demondra Martin) and Jerry (Raymundo Ballejos) quarantine together after meeting at a wedding and having a one-night stand.

Theo (Leif Bramer) and Max (Jackson Taitano) get engaged during lockdown.

Kate (Llana Greenburg) and Adam (Ali Houghoghi) struggle to raise their kids during lockdown without their nanny.

Shawn (Cleo House) and Devon (Charlie Cave) deal with police brutality personally.

Vivian (Joey Mahoney) and Charles (John Mahoney) struggle to fight coronavirus and one ultimately dies.

All of the plot lines have their own twist and all the characters are united in the epilogue.

There are four couples, while Shawn and Devon are father and son. At least one character in each part has a relationship to another character in another part. With the exception of Allison and Jerry being in Mexico for a wedding, the whole play is set in and around New York City.

Four of the five parts of the play are focused on the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on the characters. Shawn and Devon’s part is focused on the mass protests against police brutality that took place after George Floyd’s death. 

“All five of the vignettes are all inspired by people in the creators’ lives,” Miller said. “They’re fictionalized versions of situations that the creators had personal connections to. So, they were all very true in that way.”

It took a team of creative people in many disciplines to put together “Breathe.”

“An alum of Chico State actually, with a team of writers and composers—well, two main writers—actually wrote the musical,” Zollinger said. “And they asked us if we wanted to be a part of the premiere of the show. So yeah, (when) they reached out to us over the summer, it was still a work in progress…. It’s a big team of writers and composers, and we were just very fortunate to be asked if we wanted to take part in the first premiere of the show.”

“Breathe” was Martin’s directorial debut, and she also plays the role of Allison. Martin, a junior, says her proudest moments of her time at Chico State have been in this semester.

“I have a lot of hats on this semester and it was the first time that I actually got to do a successful show here at Chico State,” Martin said. “So, I think just this semester and just getting to apply all the stuff that I’ve learned in class and all that stuff to a show and also completely getting out of my comfort zone with directing.”

The next play that the music and theatre department will be producing is “The Laramie Project,” which tells the story of the life and death of Matthew Shepard, a gay student at the University of Wyoming who was murdered in 1998. Like “Breathe,” “The Laramie Project” will also be available in a video-on-demand format.

Kelsey Ogle can be reached at [email protected]