Concord Floral: CSU Theatre makes innovations out of limitations

promotional posterCSU Theatre is engaging with technology and audiences in new ways, continuing to tackle the challenges the pandemic throws at the performing arts. This fall, CSU Theatre brought streamed content to CSU students, family, friends, and arts patrons.

Now, the CSU community is invited to watch CSU Theatre’s first-ever full-length film — Concord Floral by Jordan Tannahill, directed by acting professor Saffron Henke. The movie streams Dec. 16-19 and tickets can be accessed at CSUArtsTickets.com.

Concord Floral is a one-million-square-foot abandoned greenhouse and a refuge for neighborhood kids, a place all to themselves in which to dream, dare, and come of age. But hidden there is a secret no one wants to confront, and when two friends stumble upon it, they set off an unstoppable chain of events, from shadows in parking lots to phone calls from the grave. It’s time for the teens of Concord Floral to start talking.

Major pivot

When it was clear that mainstage theatre productions at the University Center for the Arts would not be possible this year, the director, Saffron Henke, selected Concord Floral for its mostly two– or three– person scenes and monologues.

This flexibility continued to build on what was possible, given current restraints, as was the case with Boy Gets Girl, the department’s Zoom production, directed by Walt Jones earlier this fall.

“Building on what was achieved by the cast and crew of Boy Gets Girl — and as the script grew on us — it became more possible to view Concord as a film,” said Henke. Together with theatre professors Roger Hanna (director of photography/production designer) and Price Johnston (editor/VFX supervisor/2nd unit photography), Henke has been working since August to make the film a reality.

With its technical creativity, riveting performances, and film noir aesthetic, CSU Theatre achieved something very special with its live-action Zoom production of Boy Gets Girl by Rebecca Gilman and directed by Walt Jones.

Boy Gets Girl showed us that we could do it, although it’s super challenging,” said Hanna. “We’re not a TV or film school, we don’t have formal training in it, or even all of the right equipment. We even had to ask permission of the playwright to film the whole thing.”

Concord Floral works in the pandemic context because other than one brief moment that Johnston created in post-production, there is no physical contact between the characters. This practical aspect, paired with the plan to film outside, allowed the project to be approved by the CSU Pandemic Preparedness Team.

Hanna’s personal connection made during the run of “Driving Miss Daisy” at Bas Bleu Theatre in 2019 led to securing Jim Miller’s local family farm as the main filming location. Additionally, Poudre High School’s theatre director, Joel Smith, provided access to the school’s new greenhouse as a secondary set.

“It was such a boon for us to have such generous location donations that could have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to create. The sets not only naturally stimulated our creativity, but made it possible to film outside, which was good in the circumstances,” said a thankful Henke.

There’s been a learning curve

Instead of feeling the loss from not presenting a traditional play, Henke feels fortunate about CSU Theatre’s foray into feature filmmaking. As an actress, Henke has been in many movies, but this is her first time directing one. “The pedagogical value that was gained is massive,” the director said about the opportunity for the students to learn about movie-making. “This was bigger than we expected — somewhere between a legit independent film and a student film.”

“And, in many ways, now that we’ve made the movie, we’re ready to make a movie,” she added.

Hanna agreed, with a chuckle. “Like by the time we got done filming with the green screen, I figured out what settings would make the green screen easy to edit with. We’ve learned a lot.”

The push-pull of the pressure to learn and adapt versus the excitement about new opportunities was prevalent for the students as well.

Senior theatre major Rachel Bennett had to quickly adjust to the fast pace of filming. “You show up to set, and you’re jumping into costume … and you learn exactly what your blocking is, and then you’re filming less than five minutes later,” she explained. “Filming days were absolutely a whirlwind, but they were always so much fun.”

For costume, hair, and make-up designer Abby Allison, setting up her shop on location was a masterclass in organization.

“We were on set every single day for a month and a half, making sure every actor had every piece they needed, that we had every material we may need in any case, and keeping track of continuity as we were filming several scenes throughout the day. In the beginning, we were definitely feeling that learning curve and making notes of the things we needed to prep for the next filming.”

Overcoming the challenges

“The movie is the way it is, with mainly only one person on-screen at a time, because we’re following rigorous compliance protocols,” said Henke.

Instead of filming a scene with three actors together on-screen, each actor was filmed separately, with cast members delivering their lines off-camera. The individual cuts were then edited together by Johnston to create the full scene.

“It was hard because our actors aren’t robots, and they don’t necessarily deliver the scene exactly the same way each time,” said Hanna. “It makes the editing process more tedious, but Price is more than capable.”

Grey Williamson (#6 Nearly Wild) and Ariana Nin (#5 Rosa Mundi) doing their take of the boxcar scene, one at a time. Photos: Jennifer Clary

Stage Manager Lorna Stephens takes during filming at the farm. Photo: Jennifer Clary

Another technical challenge was the limit of one electrical outlet on the farm, a half-mile away from the film site. Hanna explained that “instead of capturing audio the ‘right way,’ by recording multi-track simultaneously, each actor recorded audio on their phone to be matched up later by our sound designer, [sophomore theatre major] Ashley Schountz.”

Freshman performance major Grey Williamson found that mitigating COVID policy was difficult, but everyone was committed to it. “When some of our cast and crew were put in quarantine after being exposed off of the set…we lost core aspects of our film for two weeks at a time. I think we’re all just feeling lucky to still be able to make art despite the virus, and we care about each other a lot and want to keep each other safe.”

COVID compliance also impacted Allison, who had to make do with much shorter fitting time slots and filmed YouTube tutorials in lieu of make-up fittings.

“We [also] had to incorporate nude and character-esque masks to the costumes, which also affected the storyboard of how we would shoot the scenes,” she explained.

“We just kept going,” said a determined Henke. “We had to constantly adapt and make accommodations. In a way, as performing artists, we did the apotheosis that our craft and skill requires!”

Crushing it

Henke is proud of her cast and crew, who demonstrated their willingness to make adaptations. Contrary to their previous training, these stage actors were asked to adapt their acting for the camera. “But it’s an actor’s play, and there are really compelling performances in it,” she said.

In preparing for her role as Nearly Wild, Williamson focused on reconciling acting techniques to a film script, two very different art forms. “I love film because the possibilities are endless, and I love theatre because of the intimacy, especially in a play like this, where there is a lot of narration and meta theatrical aspects. We tried to combine those things, making a film that was supernaturally charged, and connected to the audience as well,” she said.

As Henke and Hanna kept the ball moving forward, their admiration for Concord Floral’s crew increased. As is usual for a CSU production, all sets, lights, sound, props, and costumes are designed by students mentored by faculty and staff. “It was remarkable how our staff stepped up,” remarked Hanna. “Every week they were more responsive and quicker to identify problems and solutions. We’re lucky we have the people we have,” he said.

Bennett agreed.

I worked with an extremely talented group of people, and I am so grateful for this opportunity. The crew especially deserves a special thank you; they have really worked so hard to make this movie special, and I can’t wait for everyone to see what we’ve created!”

For Henke, the process has been both personally and artistically very gratifying. “It’s been a great experience, but I haven’t looked up yet,” she noted. “It’s been a wonderful yet really intense time — hopefully at the finish line it all looks effortless!”

Take-aways

My biggest take-away from this show was being able to see the similarities and differences between film and theatre. It’s made me really appreciate theatre but also film and being able to work through this new experience. I don’t think I’m going to drop theatre and become a film major but it was an experience I will carry with me moving forward.

Lorna Stephens, Stage Manager
Senior, Theatre Design and Technology/Women’s Studies

The biggest take away from this experience is really the massive importance of communication. Being online instead of in person made the passing of information really difficult sometimes. Instead of being all together in a room, it was a lot of emails where people or pieces of information easily got missed. Not to mention that this show required so many more people to get involved and was always rotating who was working when. We had a lot of bumps, but I think we’re going to be able to develop a much better way of delivering information to the whole team because of it.

Abby Allison, Costume, Hair, and Make-up Designer
Junior, Theatre Design and Technology

My biggest take-a-way from this experience would be, there is never such a thing as too much preparation. In the movie, I play a wide range of characters, which made my prep before filming days a bit more challenging. I would do my best to iron out every scene and do as much groundwork as I could, so when I got on set, I wasn’t stressing, and I could focus on giving a full performance for the camera and take notes quickly to get the shot right.

Rachel Bennett, Cast #10 Bobbie James
Senior, Theatre Performance

ConcordFloralSet11

Director Saffron Henke scouts the farm location. Photo: Jennifer Clary

Don’t miss the show

As CSU concludes this semester that has been like no other, please join in and support the hard work of CSU Theatre students and the School of Music, Theatre, and Dance.

“I hope everyone enjoys the show as much as we all did making it,” added Lorna Stephens, senior theatre major. “I am so thankful to still be able to practice my craft even through a pandemic, because it’s so important that we keep creating art, especially during this time.”

Concord Floral streams on Dec. 16, 18, and 19 at 7:30 p.m., with a matinee on Sunday, Dec. 19 at 2 p.m.

CSU students, don’t forget about your NO CHARGE access to tickets. All CSU faculty and staff receive two no-charge tickets each academic year.

CSU faculty and staff, have you used your Commitment to Campus ticket benefit yet?

Tickets can be reserved at CSUArtsTickets.com. PLEASE NOTE: Ticket sales for streamed events end 15-minutes prior to the start of each performance.

on set

The crew wraps up a day of filming at the farm. Photo: Jennifer Clary