The FSU/Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training has made changes to its 2020-21 season in response to public safety concerns due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The program will switch from its usual four-show season to just two, with each containing the full ensemble of student actors. And the revised season debuts with a digital production of Anna Deavere Smith’s Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992—a selection the Conservatory calls both timely and entirely intentional.
Twilight is based on a series of interviews Deaveare Smith held with a diverse group of hundreds of people in L.A. at the time of the Rodney King riots. The result is a multi-faceted portrait of a time much like the one we face today, with protests unfolding often since the death of George Floyd in Minnesota in June, and in cities elsewhere related to similar deaths amid accusations of police brutality and racism.
“The uprisings beleaguering American cities and towns in 2020 are, like a broken record, repeats of decades-long recurring patterns,” say the show’s director, Benny Sato Ambush, who is Black. The range of characters will give the Conservatory’s second-year students the chance to show off their skill while considering issues of meaning to society at large.
The announcement of Twilight, which will be filmed under strict precautions and released for at-home streaming Dec. 2-13, also comes weeks after several Black Conservatory students sent a letter to Asolo Rep and FSU management, following a statement by Asolo Rep that had taken a stand against oppression, racism and hate in the wake of the Floyd killing. The letter, supported by dozens of signatures, pointed to flaws in the theater and Conservatory’s own history when it came to faculty representation, a shortage of plays telling stories of people of color, and hiring of directors of diverse backgrounds.
Since then, meetings have taken place regularly between FSU’S School of Theatre staff in Tallahassee and the students concerned, and some steps have been taken, including anti-racism and diversity training sessions for staff. Hiring has been on hold due to the pandemic. The trickier question of restructuring the Conservatory’s scholarship donor program with which some students are uncomfortable, feeling they have been put on display at events and with their sponsors, still needs to be worked out.
In the meantime, plans also continue for the Conservatory’s second production of the season, an outdoor presentation of Julius Caesar, part of an ongoing Shakespeare in the Gardens partnership with Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. Social distancing will be in place for that show, set for April 7-26, 2021.
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