By Emily Rotthaler– After one and a half years of forced break due to the pandemic, Morningside’s School of Visual and Performing Arts is back in action this week. The theatre group is performing “STRONG.” – a play written by Iowan playwright Victoria Elizabeth.
“STRONG.” will be performed a total of four times on campus this weekend with the Saturday and Sunday shows still coming up. Show times will be 7 p.m. on Saturday and 1 p.m. on Sunday in Klinger-Neal-Theater.
Senior Breeanna Pierce, dramaturg and stage manager for the production, is excited to see the doors of Klinger-Neal-Theater reopen to audiences. She said, “The pandemic put a stop to live performances for so long that it has been an incredible joy to be back in a theater.”
Pierce added that this production additionally offers a unique opportunity for the cast and crew, as they get to work directly with the playwright. This opportunity was made possible through the collaboration of The American Playwright Series, Shot in The Dark Productions, and the Gilchrist Foundation.
Professor Taylor Clemens, director of the production, sees “STRONG.” as a “wonderful” way to get back into performing. He said, “Seeing the students learn and grow as performers, especially through their time working directly with the playwright, has been a particularly rewarding experience.”
“STRONG.” was supposed to be produced in spring 2020. It tells the story of two life-long friends, whose resilience and strength are tested as they must deal with the grief of one character battling stomach cancer.
Playwright Victoria Elizabeth stated, the takeaway of “STRONG.” is that even in the most challenging times, life still offers moments of joy. “Moments of great heartache allow us to feel our greatest joys more fully, and vice-versa,” she said.
After looking at the subject matter, Morningside’s theatre group decided to adjust the original version. According to Pierce, “Originally, the script was written for two women, but as we looked at the subject matter, especially through the context of how differently we have all coped with the pandemic, we wanted to also tell this story through the male lens as well.”
Because of this, the cast and crew adapted the play for two male actors and decided to show both the female and male version in two 75-minute acts.
The original story of Molly and Tiffany will be performed by Shana McKie and Kaelin Armstrong, while the male adaptation of Mike and Tim features Nathanael Roop and Garret Wright.
Junior Nathanael Roop, who plays Mike, said, “When we started, I thought it was your run-of-the-mill ‘your friend has a terminal illness’ story, but as we kept working and I got more in character, I realized it’s more a story of how friendships get tested.”
Junior Kaelin Armstrong, in the role of Tiffany, acknowledged that the production creates a safe space for the discussion of the grief and fear associated with terminal illness. Furthermore, she appreciated that, through her character, she has had the chance to explore how vulnerability can also be a strength.
After the show on Friday they hosted a panel with the director, playwright, and cast on the process and difficulties of bringing the play to life. They will again host another panel after the Saturday show.