Refer here for information on productions without photographic documentation.
Loose Lips: A Lipsynch Cabaret
Founded by Quest Sky Zeidler. Performed in various spaces at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Fall 2015 through Spring 2017.
I founded Loose Lips in 2015, a completely novel performance troupe within the UC Santa Cruz Theatre Arts Department. Barnstorm, the university’s student-run theatre company, already had several sketch comedy outfits and improv teams in residency, but an outfit dedicated to lipsynch performance was something else entirely. My growing interest in the world of drag had awakened me to the flexibility and experimentation available within the art form—something exemplified by artists such as Lypsinka, Bob the Drag Queen, and Sasha Velour. Without a formal precedent it was up to me to ideate what our performances would look like and how they would operate and then to invent and implement organization and infrastructure to make that vision a reality. Each Loose Lips show was a series of devised performances, numbers conceived of, selected, and realized by our small ensemble of six to nine people.
Without a doubt, Loose Lips was a foray into a larger artistic fixation for me: the development of a uniquely queer theatrical sensibility. Through this organization I was able to provide a platform for myself, other queer theatre artists, and allies to express ourselves in an authentic and unadulterated manner. Every number was an opportunity in problem-solving: How do we translate this plot or concept using only prerecorded lyrics and dialogue, whatever props and costumes we can get our hands on, and our bodies? These limitations provided endless opportunities for creative solutions, joining poor theatre with queer ingenuity. Our fondness for Loose Lips meant that no matter how many other responsibilities we were juggling, we found time and care for this project quarter after quarter. A Loose Lips production was nothing short of ridiculous. Our parody of Stranger Things involved Joyce Byers beckoning to her missing son through “Total Eclipse of the Heart” by Bonnie Tyler. Kate Bush’s “Wuthering Heights” became a battle between two Catherine Earnshaws. Adele told a story of romance beyond the grave as she sang the line: “Hello from the other side.” Our reenactment of the “Jingle Bell Rock” scene from Mean Girls caused the entire audience to sing along. Our lipsynch cabaret was a space for queer mirth, queer pain, queer sensuality, and everything in between. To this day, Loose Lips remains one of my proudest achievements.
The Big Antarctic Ghost Hunt
Written by Emily Schneiderman. Performed in the Barn Theatre at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Spring 2015.
The Big Antarctic Ghost Hunt premiered in 2015 UC Santa Cruz’s annual student-written play festival, Chautauqua. When an accident on the East Antarctic Ice Sheet results in the deaths of five scientists, Parker and her team of paranormal researchers arrive at the scientists’ lab to investigate. She butts heads with Carmen, one of the remaining geologists and a decided skeptic. When Dr. Mullaney—Carmen’s superior and a family friend of Parker’s—reveals that her experimentation with mad science killed her fellow geologists, the two women are able to put their differences aside to stop her. Just as Mullaney’s plans are about to come to fruition, the ghost hunters and geologists are saved by Penghost, the ghost of an emperor penguin, who causes Mullaney to meet her end in the chasm she created. In the end love and science conquer all: Parker and Carmen confess their feelings for one another and the researchers capture evidence of their spectral penguin ally.
Two challenges arise in a production of The Big Antarctic Ghost Hunt. The first is translating the slow-burn, enemies-to-lovers romantic tension between Parker and Carmen. This kind of character dynamic can be tricky to pace, and audiences are especially prone to miss romantic overtones between same-gender characters (especially women) due to societal heteronormativity. The second challenge regards the variety of tone packed into the one-act romantic comedy. Scientists have died, Carmen and Parker are fighting, and Dr. Mullaney will sacrifice everyone to get what she wants; meanwhile, supporting characters Alexander and Carrie are professing their love for one another through 1980s power ballads and Penghost is waddling around unseen. The multitudes contained within Ghost Hunt required simple design choices. White sheets covered the scenery to convey snow (Tanner Oertel), heavy duty winter garments and labcoats lent realism (Sierra Parsons), and the lights (Nicholas Junius) and sound (Alex Colbert) were pared down to not distract from the action.
The Haunting of Hill House
Written by F. Andrew Leslie. Performed in the Barn Theatre at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Fall 2014.
Adapted for the stage by F. Andrew Leslie from Shirley Jackson’s seminal novel, The Haunting of Hill House is a classic supernatural tale of the American gothic. After the death of her overbearing mother, Eleanor receives an invitation to step outside her repressed and solitary life to investigate an estate plagued by paranormal activity. Alongside the stalwart Dr. Montague, eccentric Theo, and carefree Luke, Eleanor witnesses ghostly happenings at the infamous Hill House. The house and Eleanor begin to feed upon one another until her comrades attempt to remove her from the premises for her own good—only for a fatal car accident to make the property her final resting place.
Despite the prevalence of spectral entities and parapsychological presences, The Haunting of Hill House requires a realist approach to achieve the appropriate feelings of dread and horror. Lights (David Murakami) and sound (Alyssa Matuchniak) both served to represent the apparitions plaguing the researchers, allowing the audience to fill the negative space with their own imaginations. Dr. Michael Chemers used this production as an illustration of effective theatrical horror in his course Monsters in the Dramatic Imagination for several years afterward. Much of the ambiance could also be attributed to the nature of UC Santa Cruz’s Barn Theatre, supposedly haunted in its own right. A smattering of antiquated set dressings (Alix Feinsod) and old costumes out of stock (Alyssa Williams-Pierce) only accentuated the locale’s ghostly mise en scène.