The COVID-19 pandemic has forced artists to be flexible, and it’s taught them an important lesson: you don’t necessarily need to go into a physical theater to experience a live show, just like you can watch Hollywood movies from your living room couch instead of going to a movie theater.
For UP alumni Maddie Nguyen ‘20 and Riley Olson ‘20, this flexibility helped them bring a show to life that they’ve been working on for years. The play, titled “The Misadventures of Missy Black,” will stream online as part of Portland’s Fertile Ground Festival, which focuses specifically on new, original works.
With this year's festival being virtual, the play was pre-recorded instead of being performed in front of a live audience. This adaptation allowed the crew more creativity with their choice of set and staging. They filmed the play at Cafe Delirium in Gresham, OR, lending the production a scrappy, tall-tale-heard-in-a-tavern feeling. For Olson though, the story of Missy Black started long before filming began, as she has been writing the script for four years.
“I have been working on this show off and on since sophomore year basically,” Olson said. “It really started because I've always thought it would be fun to be a pirate. I don't think there are enough plays about pirates. There especially aren't enough with good roles for women.”
The show was produced by Nguyen’s production company Do It For Mead Productions, named after Nguyen and Olson’s former theater history instructor, Mead Hunter. The friendship that would lead to the company’s founding began the first day of Olson and Nguyen’s “Acting 1” class their freshman year at UP.
“At the end of class, I looked around the room,” Nguyen said. “And I was like, ‘Okay, just choose someone.’ So, I went up to Riley and I was like, ‘Hey, you want to get lunch?’ and the rest is history.”
The two hit it off that day and stuck together through the rest of their education.
“We wound up staying really good friends and working on projects together,” Olson recalls “We wound up living together senior year, which was great. It’s been a fun ride.”
Pirate captain Missy Black’s crew, which takes inspiration from the famous female pirates Anne Bonny and Mary Reed, reflects the actual friends that make up the cast. With an ensemble of 17 characters to assemble, Olson and Nguyen recruited familiar faces for the production.
“We're very new to the theater world,” Olson said. “So we don't have a ton of connections yet. Most of our connections are current students or recent alumni, people who went to school with us. That was most of who I reached out to.”
The crew shot the play for over one week during the fall semester, usually lasting from 7 to 11 p.m. The after hours shoots, coupled with the 45 minute drive back to Portland, left junior Bennett Bucholz, who plays the role of legendary pirate Jericho Black, exhausted when he finally got home.
“It was actually right before Thanksgiving break,” said Bucholz, “We had this week of filming that started the day after ‘House of Desires’ closed, so it was pretty bang-bang. I had ‘Company’ auditions too, so it was quite the sequence of days for me there.”
Nguyen, who lives in California, had to fly to Portland the week of shooting to direct the ‘Pirate Play,’ as the crew calls it, which turned out to be more challenging than she thought. The script boasts 150 pages and a complex plot, but the production had a limited budget.
“As [Olson] was writing it, my most consistent piece of advice was ‘write a play that’s hard to direct,’ which later came to bite me in the butt because [the play] has 27 different locations, 17 different characters, there's a time skip, there's a bunch of double casting,” Nguyen said.
“There's 17 people in the show, but each person plays like three different other people,” Nguyen continued. “There's sword fights and a masquerade ball. This would be a nightmare to stage on a normal stage for an equity theater where you have the budget for it. We got a $500 grant from the Awesome Foundation and that was our budget. It was a scheduling nightmare.”
The limited budget and sparse crew necessitated some engenuity from the play’s creators. To that end, Olson, Nguyen and their director of photography and alumni, Kat Yo ‘21, borrowed some equipment from the Clark Library’s Digital Lab.
“We used cameras, a tripod, we rented a boom mic but we didn’t really use it,” Nguyen said. “The crew was very bare bones, it was just me, Riley and Kat, honestly. We didn’t really have anyone who could focus on sound on top of everything else.”
Despite the challenging production schedule, all involved had a swashbuckling good time creating “The Misadventures of Missy Black” and are excited for audiences to finally see their play, which to them felt more like a reunion.
“Even if I had had access to everyone, I would have picked all of these people,” Oslon said. “Because I've seen their work. I've worked with most of them before. They do incredible, incredible work and I knew that they were also people who I could trust to be good team players, to make those big choices and not be scared in the moment to be part of a crew.”
Other actors in the play include alumni Aurora Hernandez ‘20, Joe Flory ‘19, Emmy Christopherson ‘21 and junior Bennet Buchholz.
The show will be streamed on Jan. 30 at 7 p.m., Jan 31 and Feb 2-3 at 7:30 on the Do It For Mead Productions YouTube channel.
Will Mulligan is a reporter with the Beacon. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.