The COVID-19 pandemic has forced artists to be flexible and taught them an important lesson: You don’t have to go to a physical movie theater to experience a live show, just like you can watch Hollywood movies from your couch. your room instead of going to a movie.
For UP alumni Maddie Nguyen ’20 and Riley Olson ’20, this flexibility helped bring to life a program 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 specifically focuses on new and original works.
Since this year’s festival is virtual, the play was pre-recorded rather than performed in front of a live audience. This adaptation allowed the team more creativity with the choice of setting and staging. They filmed the play at Cafe Delirium in Gresham, Oregon, which gave the production a scrappy, fairy-tale feel heard in a tavern. For Olson, however, Missy Black’s story began long before filming began, as she has been writing the script for four years.
“I’ve been working on this show on and off basically since sophomore year,” Olson said. “It really started because I always thought it would be fun to be a pirate. I don’t think there are enough plays about pirates. Especially there are not enough 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 founding of the company began on the first day of Olson and Nguyen’s “Acting 1” class in their freshman year at UP.
“At the end of class, I looked around the room,” Nguyen said. “And I was like, ‘Okay, just pick someone.’ So, I went up to Riley and said, ‘Hey, do you want to have lunch?’ And the rest is history.”
The two hit it off that day and stayed together for the rest of their education.
“We ended up being really good friends and working on projects together,” Olson recalls. “We ended up living together in the last year, which was great. It’s been a fun ride.”
Inspired by famous pirates Anne Bonny and Mary Reed, Pirate Captain Missy Black’s crew mirrors the real friends who make up the cast. With a set of 17 characters to put together, Olson and Nguyen recruited familiar faces for the production.
“We’re very new to the theater world,” Olson said. “So we still don’t have a lot of connections. Most of our connections are current students or recent alumni, people who went to school with us. That was most of the people I contacted.”
The crew filmed the play for more than a week during the fall semester, which typically runs from 7 to 11 p.m. exhausted when he finally got home.
“Actually, it was just before the Thanksgiving holiday,” Bucholz said. “We had this week of filming that started the day after ‘House of Desires’ closed, so it was pretty bang-bang. I also had auditions for the ‘Company,’ so it was a great sequence of days for me there.”
Nguyen, who lives in California, had to fly to Portland the week of filming to direct the ‘Pirate Play,’ as the crew calls it, which turned out to be more challenging than he thought. The script has 150 pages and a complex plot, but the production had a limited budget.
“What [Olson] while writing it, my most consistent advice was ‘write a play that’s hard to direct’, which then bit me in the butt because [the play] it’s got 27 different locations, 17 different characters, there’s a time jump, there’s a lot of double casting,” Nguyen said.
“There are 17 people on the show, but each person plays as three different people,” Nguyen continued. “There are sword fights and a masquerade ball. It would be a nightmare to stage it on a normal stage for an equity theater where you have the budget for it. We received a $500 grant from the Awesome Foundation and that was our budget. It was a programming nightmare.”
The limited budget and scarce equipment required some ingenuity on the part of the creators of the work. To that end, Olson, Nguyen, and their cinematographer and alumna, Kat Yo ’21, borrowed some equipment from the Clark Library’s Digital Lab.
“We use cameras, a tripod, we rent a boom mic but we don’t actually use it,” Nguyen said. “The team was very basic, it was just me, Riley and Kat, honestly. We really didn’t have anyone who could focus on the sound above everything else.”
Despite the challenging production schedule, everyone involved had a great 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 access to everyone, I would have chosen all of these people,” Oslon said. “Because I have seen your work. I have worked with most of them before. They do amazing, amazing work and I knew they were also people that I could trust to be good team players, to make those big decisions and not be afraid when it comes to being part of a team.”
Other actors in the play include alumni Aurora Hernandez ’20, Joe Flory ’19, Emmy Christopherson ’21, and junior Bennet Buchholz.
The show will air on January 30 at 7 p.m., January 31, and February 2 and 3 at 7:30 p.m. on the Do It For Mead Productions YouTube channel.
Will Mulligan is a reporter for the Beacon. He can be reached at email@example.com.