The purple and blue light that served as the background of the online filmed musical “Welcome to the Void” is comforting, in the way it feels like you’re sitting in a cushioned row of seats with lighting on the floor and a stage in front of you.
Not in your bed, alone; even though that’s what the whole show is about.
“Welcome into the Void” explores multiple perspectives of life in isolation and coping with the new reality of not being around other people. The show, directed by John DeBoer, features one actor at a time, each filmed by themselves. The unique premise treads in new territory: “Welcome to the Void” floats somewhere between stage and film.
The show starts with an eccentric actor, Andy Lottis, breaking the fourth wall in a vlog-like entry. He celebrates putting pants on for the first time in far too long by making cupcakes.
Cut to a girl talking to her wall about a newly purchased cactus, played by UM student Arwen Baxter. Light-hearted background piano starts, and now she’s singing about said cactus. It starts out cute, but each line descends into a sad realization that she's talking to her wall, and singing to her spiny, inanimate roommate.
Each actors’ introduction to the camera shows off their own dramatic situation by using over-exaggerated facial expressions and loud physical movements. They make it hard to tell that the director had not even seen the actors perform with their masks off until the day that it was filmed.
“We were like ‘Well I hope they're doing it well,’ because we couldn't see what was going on the bottom half of their face,” said Jane Best, the co-writer and music director.
A spur of the moment decision led to the creation of “Into the Void.” Best and writing partner Elli Caterisano wrote the entire show in six weeks.
“We were part of a committee that was trying to figure out what productions to do in the spring, and we were like ‘hey can we write one?’ and the faculty was like ‘okay,’ and then we were like, ‘really?’” Best laughed.
DeBoer, the director, said that having the piece written by the students was the best part of his experience.
“The best part of directing this is getting to shape a story in ways that you don't get to in plays that already exist,” DeBoer said. “With this show, every time we rehearsed it we kind of generated a new draft.”
He said the ever-changing production became one of the most difficult aspects of production. DeBoer had to keep track of all the different drafts forming during rehearsal.
“It was a great show. Even though it was difficult, it was awesome,” Deboer said.
Best, a third-year MFA candidate at UM, said getting to create her own music was an amazing experience.
“I felt like I was a kid in a candy shop the entire time,” Best said. “We were creative in working together while physically apart. It's a brand new piece of musical theater,” Best said.
Themes of isolation and loss are throughout the play. Best and DeBoer hope the virtual audience sees how these universal constraints are as pervasive in life during the pandemic as they are in the show.
“We wrote this about the constraints. It has been fun trying to work with the current situation instead of trying to fit something old into this strange new world we are in,” Best said.