In celebration of Arts Month and in anticipation of the upcoming presidential election, TheatreWorks will be streaming “House Arrest,” a production with 16 actors and a remarkable total of eight directors, written by Anna Deavere Smith. The two-and-a-half-hour production investigates what roles race, gender, sexuality and celebrity have played in the power dynamics surrounding the American presidency.
“House Arrest” will be available to stream beginning Oct. 22 and until Nov. 1. Students will need to sign-up here and receive a passcode to access the stream. UCCS students can watch for free but also have the option of donating $10 or $20 to support future programming.
The production was produced virtually, and rehearsals were held over Zoom with only one day of filming where the actors performed in-person. Actors had to keep their mask on up until their moment of filming, and a 15-foot line was marked out around the actor when they performed on the Shockley-Zalabak Theater stage.
“‘House Arrest’s’ subtitle, ‘A Search for American Character in and Around the White House, Past and Present,’ is really telling because Deavere Smith is looking at the whole history of the presidency, beginning with Thomas Jefferson, she touches upon Lincoln and then she really picks back up in the 20th century,” Director Caitlin Lowans said.
““House Arrest” was written by Anna Devere Smith during the Clinton presidency, but the implications of the issues it explores are still relevant today. As we were working on it, so many of the directors and actors would stop in rehearsal and say, ‘Oh my gosh. That particular line or that particular moment feels like it’s talking to today,’” Lowans said.
According to Lowans, Deavere Smith does Documentary Theatre. In her style, she interviews, in some cases, hundreds of people and pulls from historical source material to create a play that is entirely composed of monologues in the first-person voice.
As to why the production has an unusually high number of directors, Lowans explained that it is because the production is entirely composed of monologue, and because the playwright wrote the play in terms of movement (and each movement has a focus to it), that it lent itself well to dividing it up among the eight directors.
“We employ actors from all different walks of life. We also employ actors who are members of the Actors Union, Actors’ Equity. Actors’ Equity is being very stringent now, because they want to keep their members safe, about what theaters are allowed to do — any in-person work,” Lowans said. “We actually had to create a safety plan of all the different things we were going to do to keep folks safe. We went through six or seven drafts with the safety plan for Equity.”
Senior and VAPA major Olivia Langley plays the roles of Elizabeth Keckley and Cheryl Mills. For Langley, both characters represent unprecedented strength in the face of adversity.
According to Langley in an email, Keckley was an African American woman who purchased her own freedom and became the personal dressmaker for Mary Todd Lincoln. Her other character, Mills, is an African American woman who became heavily involved with the Bill Clinton impeachment trial, serving as a lawyer, corporate executive and deputy of the White House counsel.
Addressing the issue of rehearsing virtually, Langley wrote, “While strange, my virtual rehearsal experience was enlightening! I found myself feeling isolated behind my screen, but my directors made every attempt to lessen this isolation … We all seemed to understand the importance of putting this play on and conducted our rehearsals with this in mind.”
“I truly did miss sharing a physical space with other actors and my directors, but I did not feel as if something was wrong; I was able to gather a similar sense of connectivity – one that surpassed the limitation of a computer screen.”