Margo Hall Motivates Modern Freedom Fighters
by Abby Tozer
March 13, 2020 on the UC, Berkeley campus. The sun is shining, and thousands of students rush to class. Some have just grabbed a Starbucks, others are busy planning their summers abroad. But an air of uncertainty looms.
Director Margo Hall has inspired CAL students with a new “Devised Performance Project,” a collage of student life.
Watching Cal’s “Unstable Connection,” a phone pops up center screen with FaceTime chimes. A panicked voice, resolute Shandria Blackmon, has just heard the decision in the Breonna Taylor trial. She questions, “How does $12 million replace a black body?” Zoomer Micheal Peck attempts to reassure her, but we hear palpable fear in her voice.
Suddenly, several students interject: “I just wanna get my nails done,” “I just wanna get a haircut.” Their inane pleas sound familiar, by now. Feeling Shandria’s fear, we laugh at their ridiculous privilege.
Hall has created a unique narrative that moves us through each student’s initial shock and into the surprisingly optimistic present. “Unstable Connection” provides powerful commentaries on the curse of COVID-19.
Theatre student and mother, Anna Marie Sharpe concludes, “We must stand up for the next person as we wish they would for us.” In six months, our octet has transformed from frightened, self-concerned students to empowered virtual activists.
The dynamic ensemble of eight BIPOC Berkeley students shares intimate insights as suddenly “virtual” students. Images of police brutality and the Black Lives Matter Movement highlight their stories. Blended montages of pre- and post- COVID life punctuate their transformations.
Our haphazard collection of newly anointed “virtual activists” begin to defy their isolation. As an ensemble, they cross a bridge to resistance, to empathy.
Eight Zoom boxes appear with students holding up colored paper. Ripping the papers, they chant “the enemy of union is division.” Sharpe, actor and mother, stoically intones: “These papers divide the red and blue from the “I can’t breathe!” Sharpe demands we put matters into perspective.
Enthusiastic Daniela Cervantes blossoms—from student to activist, after her mother survives the virus. Now Cervantes refuses to be “just a student,” any longer. From the comfort of her vibrant bedroom, she starts a bold Zoom protest in support of BLM, seeking clarity amid chaos.
Director Hall’s Zoom room is filled with COVID characters: In the bottom middle box, we find COVID clueless “Sorority Becky” (hilarious Alexa Briana Crismon), casually sipping from her oversized glitter cup. On the left, loud-mouthed Micheal tries to shut down Daniela’s hopes. But ideas start swirling among the disoriented students.
Beaming with excitement, Geovany Calderon suggests they harness the power of social media. When Crystal Haryanto, overachieving computer scientist, crashes the Zoom, she saves the day with Techie know-how. Center-screen ringleader, Cervantes, convinces us to “think outside the box” to attempt big changes in changing times.
By the end, startling changes flash by on screen—costumes changes and pithy slogans transform them into modern freedom fighters.
From shock to denial to empowerment, the wonderfully talented actors of “Unstable Connection” turn into activists. They leave us feeling liberated, better armed to make sorely needed changes. We feel like joining their party, today.
“Unstable Connection” by U.C., Berkeley: Theater, Dance, & Performance Studies (TDPS), directed by Margo Hall—Streaming to Friday, December 18, 2020, at: CAL, Berkeley
Cast: Shandria Blackmon, Geovany Calderon, Daniela Cervantes, Alexa Briana Crismon, Joseph Gonzalez, Crystal Haryonto, Micheal Peck, and Anna Marie Sharpe.
Banner photo: (top) Micheal Peck, Alexa Briana Crismon, Daniela Cervantes; (middle) Joseph Gonzalez, Anna Marie Sharpe, Shandria Blackmon; (bottom) Geovany Calderon, Crystal Haryanto.