After reading the title you may ask: How does one have a somewhat “perfect day” amidst the radical unfamiliarity we know as 2020? Well, please allow me to explain…
In April 2020 I finished a virtual class in my room and was off to go to my first virtual audition of the year: Alliance Theater’s 19th annual Palefsky Collision Project. A three-week long chance to create art and fight for social change while being part of an amazing ensemble of high school students and college freshmen. I wanted to be a part of this so badly.
So, I eagerly crossed not the busy streets of Atlanta into the welcoming, vast artistic space called Alliance Theatre, but a smooth carpeted hallway into my sister’s equally carpeted sunny bedroom. I sat on a sleek barber chair to keep me from slouching, excitedly punched in a zoom ID then password, and looked into the digital black eye of my device that looked into the captivating eyes of the artist sitting opposite me. I let out a breath of exhilaration, possibly easily mistaken for nervousness, and shared my monologue with Patrick McColery, the challenging and encouraging artistic director of Collision; Pearl Cleage, Alliance Theatre’s Playwright in Residence who would be forming our essays into a script; and Sarah Wallis, Alliance’s Teens and Adult Program manager, who has been a supportive role model of mine for years.
After I finished, I was informed more about the Collision Project, learning that all of the work, from monologues to instrumentals, would be created by us — the teen ensemble and crew. Patrick explained that there is nothing I could not be in Collision. Sure, I auditioned as an actress, but in Collision I could be a singer, dancer, writer, painter, activist — and whatever else an artist dreams of being. Although the audition was held via Zoom, it was like many I had before but more encouraging. Anyone could walk away happy that they were able to perform for such a wonderful audience.
Because of COVID-19, so many schedules had been cancelled or postponed; however, Collision was able to fight its way through because of so many dedicated people. Grasping normality by the reins, we were able to taste the sweet flavor of expectation and excitement once again — using Zoom for three weeks of daily workshops, rehearsals, meetings and a showcase.
I can explain the first week of Collision in many words but the first one that comes to mind is “Stimulation.” Every day we logged into the Zoom Collision meeting room. Once in the morning and once in the afternoon we engaged in a workshop with various guest artists. I’ve never learned about or have done so many different forms of art in such a short amount of time.
On the first day we observed an “Off the Page” stage reading, an unstressed performance of selected text from the original book — “White Rose” (a story of resistance against Hitler). Afterward we shared any thoughts, feelings, convictions — you name it — that were stimulated in us during the reading.
This was basically an icebreaker on steroids. We awoke all feelings we had that may have been slumbering inside of us. After hearing the reading and speaking to everyone about our views, “White Rose” was no longer just words on a page or remnants of history. Instead, breaths of life filled the words I had read, closing the gap between past and present. I was able to truly understand the vulnerability and fiery passion that the young members of a White Rose used to fight Hitler and those like him.
I was moved by all of our different yet similar points of view: from how injustices should be fought to how we felt about the book’s poetic narrative instead of a prose, and, even more importantly, the bravery some Collision members used to share their opinions and experiences. When we share a piece of our hearts with one another — when we are heard and not shut down, that is a form of acceptance, which I’ve learned is an extremely beautiful feeling. Acceptance is not the same thing as agreement. Perhaps a better word for this definition of acceptance is freedom. Together, all 19 of us shouted freedom with our passionate hearts.
A Talent Share
At the end of the first week, we had a “talent share.” We all created an original work inspired by White Rose and were challenged to relate it to society today. The range of talents were shocking and left us absolutely speechless. There was spoken word, music, monologues, comedy, drama, the taste of the past, the present and the future. We all wrote our pieces separately and created different settings, such as a college auditorium, military training grounds,”the streets,” “Dreamland” and more. Becoming landmarks on a map, each one was seamlessly woven together, creating a full globe, a lot like a race track life map one of the Collisioners Jude Harris*, 17, homeschool student, made during a workshop. Going around and around, each stop was as significant as the next. The scintillating purity in each talent has left an imprint in my soul that is forbidden to leave.
Even though we lived each Collision Day to the fullest, it was still unbelievable only a week has passed. Being open minded and staying positive to the possibilities of a virtual format is what allowed us to connect and create so deeply. We treated everything with the same amount of seriousness we would if we were in a physical theater. A lot of people treat virtual experiences as if they are “fake,” saying things like, “I want to meet you in real life.” I absolutely understand what they mean, but I think it can be so powerful for your subconscious to say “I want to meet you in person.” Acknowledging the reality of the experience, we didn’t further “rob” ourselves of the benefits of the physical experience. We were able to enjoy one another and keep some of the infamous “Zoom Fatigue” at bay.
Week two was the prime time of relationship building. Together we free wrote responses to topics prompted by Pearl Cleage our playwright, essentially writing a script for Pearl to put together. We watched a film about Sophie and Hans Scholl, Christoph Probst and other White Rose members, and afterwards shared our feelings. We spoke with Yolanda King about Black Lives Matter and protesting today, understanding that now, during the Holocaust and far before resistance has surged through the hearts of all ages. Change is the product of resistance and persistence.
We had Friday off that week, and some of us gathered anyway for a virtual sleepover. We laughed together, performed together, cried together, and changed together.
July 2020: Zoom… Collision 2020 Headquarters. Separate? No, together — Virtually.
A Happily Ever After?
How has two weeks passed already! We are an infinite loop of love, balanced like Yin and Yang, hearts synchronized with each and every pang. An Ensemble.
We welcomed week three with a script! With only five days to rehearse a complex script, record music, and manage plenty of other tasks, we started with our on-stage reading of our own own script, un-muting our microphones a sentence before our lines and muting at the end of our lines — as if adding extra punctuation. Nostalgic of day one, we actually kept infectious power as we spoke of social injustices we face and how we plan to continue to fight: “The world will react someday; someone will punish the people that are doing these terrible things. The ribbon widens, flooding my mind with a river of hope!”
Our theater performance was embedded with film, further enriching the uniqueness of our production. Our tech week consisted of some of the fiercest note taking: receiving constructive criticism from our directors on finding different ways to understand and deliver our art. Adaption: learning how to make new traditions in virtual theater; we could not put our hands in a circle and do an energy pass, but we could do verbal energy passes by sharing our excitement and typing jokes into the Zoom chat. And boldness, having confidence that we could successfully make a full production over Zoom.
On show day we logged into a new Collision Show Day Zoom meeting room for group warm-ups. Then we were tremendously inspired by a surprise spoken word piece by one of the Collisioners, Chloe Beaver, a 17-year-old student at Lovett: “It’s a story 400 years in the making. From slavery to mass incarceration, black liberation keeps getting lost in translation.”
Chloe struck all of our souls with this verse, once again making more virtual theater practices that may become tradition. We sat together as an ensemble — in our separate bedrooms but on the same stage.
The digital audience began to fill, the number of Zoom participants ascending with each second…. anticipation… hoping to offer the light in us to the world… freedom…We gave our performance with invigoration. Our heads dipped for a bow, and looking back up we saw that the light shining back on us from the other side of the virtual void. Questions from audience members began to fill our Q&A box. The audience was interested, better yet, stimulated.
The word “Collision” is sometimes victim to only having negative connotations: destroy, dispute, maybe a car wreck. But let’s think about it differently. We can collide and create instead of destroy. Maybe you can allow this to be a new thought you have when you think of the word “Collision.”
Collision is a verb; it is action. We are action, pro-action, reaction and never a distraction. July 25, 2020, was a day that all Collision 2020 led up to. Is it the birthday of a perfect day? For me I can say yes, because 19 teen artists, a director, two music directors, a sound designer, three video editors, a producer/ mentor, a playwright, a Spelman fellow, a choreographer, The Director of Alliance Theatre education, the Executive Director of Alliance Theatre and many guest artists Collided and created. Because we loved and did not apologize. Our final show is titled “Dangerous Talk: A Back Then Journey to the Right Now.”
Photos courtesy of the Alliance Theatre
The Alliance Theater is a VOX ATL community partner, sharing stories and connecting teens in programming. For more information about the Alliance’s Palefsky Collision Project visit alliancetheater.org/collision.
*Jude has also been a staff member of VOX ATL.