Since the pandemic began in mid-March we’ve been waiting for art that can be created safely and after six months there are a few theatre groups that have made some changes and have begun streaming live performances. One of these theatre groups is the Theatre and Media Arts Department at Brigham Young University, the alma mater of yours truly. They are beginning their Virtual Fall 2020 season this Halloween weekend with some brand new but familiar short plays. Illusionary Tales is a collection of three 10-minute plays written by BYU alumni adapted from folktales from around the world.
A unique element to Illusionary Tales is the use of Pepper’s Ghost. This design element utilizes the use of projection to make it appear that the actors are onstage together when in reality they are performing from different locations. This is a great technique that BYU has decided to use to ensure that their actors remain safe while performing. While the technique is practical for pandemic social distancing, it also acts as a visual of the retelling of folktales since both visually onstage and in the scripts we see the ghost of a past tale and the presence of a new adaptation.
The first illusionary tale is called Balete Drive by Melissa Leilani Larson, a new take on the Mexican Folktale of La Llorona. Larson creates a story that does justice to the Mexican Folklore while also bringing in history of her own culture in combining La Llorona with the Filipino story of “The White Lady.” The merging of the two legends is seamless as they become one. Being of Mexican culture myself and knowing the story of La Llorona, the performance of Alyssa Aramaki as La Llorona is flawless in the feeling of chill and heartbreak that the wailing woman herself brings.
Following Balete Drive is Such a Time as This by James Goldberg. Such a Time as This comes from Yiddish Folklore and The Golum Story. In his own words from an interview conducted by the dramaturgs of Illusionary Tales, Goldberg says, “As I thought about the continuing threat of racist violence in this country during my lifetime, and the conversations people are currently trying to have about race, I recognized resonances with stories about the golem of Prague.” In Such a Time as This, what stood out to me was the set. The scenic design by Elisabeth Goulding is gorgeous and adds so much to setting the feeling of the performance.
The Tell-Tale Heart by Andrew Justvig, an adaptation Edgar Allen Poe’s story by the same name closes out the evening. Many of us likely know of Edgar Allen Poe from high school English and if you’re anything like me then you probably didn’t love reading Poe. There a few stories that I remembered and enjoy, and The Tell-Tale Heart is one of those. Most amazing to me in this performance is the use of the aforementioned Pepper’s Ghost, but you’ll just have to watch it yourself to see the brilliance.
The performance runs a total of approximately 45 minutes and is free to view on the BYU TMA department website. Before you watch the performance, take a moment to head over the 4th Wall Dramaturgy website to view the interactive program and additional articles to learn more about the folklore and the making of this performance. As we all try to figure out how to still enjoy this Halloween season while social distancing, spend a piece of your Halloween night watching the final performance of some spooky Illusionary Tales.