LCC’s ‘What’s Next?’ embraces the new normal

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During the pandemic, we’ve seen several Zoom productions, a professionally filmed play, a drive-in movie, a socially distanced outside show and podcasts.

On April 16, Lansing Community College’s Performing Arts Department reveals on its Facebook page yet another creative way to safely experience performances.

“What’s Next?” is an original film about our recovery from the year that was, and embracing the new normal. It’s unique because of its content and format, and how it was assembled. “What’s Next?” is a collection of nine original segments by students that began in January as a theatrical piece and transformed into a film.

“As I pitched the project to LCC, my mission was to create a project that focused on the unexpected, even remotely positive outcomes of the living hell that was the last year,” director Mark Colson said.

“Someone in the group of about eight that I was pitching to said, ‘We have seen the projects about the tragedy and loss from COVID. I guess I’m more interested in what’s next.’ That conversation stuck with me,” Colson said.

Colson is a LCC acting instructor who is well known for his directing and acting accomplishments. The Screen Actor’s Guild and Actor’s Equity member has an impressive local and national resume of stage and screen roles. That included a recurring character in Netflix’s “I Am Not OK With This.”

“Season two was greenlighted and then canceled by Netflix,” Colson said. “The explanation was that it that it was completely due to the pandemic.”

For “What’s Next?” Colson wanted to create something other than a virtual play or piece focused on the pandemic’s devastation. He also wanted to use the Devised Theater technique — a process Colson employed while being part of the “Theatre 2 Film” projects when he taught at Michigan State University.

“Devised Theater begins with extremely loose parameters of the project’s theme or mission,” Colson said. “There is no end goal or finish line.”

“What’s Next?” took shape through combined efforts that produced structures and endings over time. “In essence, DT is for the brave who are willing to stand at the edge of a cliff, look down, not see the bottom, and jump anyway,” Colson said. “All of my actors jumped off the cliff.”

Sally Hecksel, Samantha Le, Rebecca MacCreery, Kallie and Makayla Marrison, Pamela R. Smith, Molly Sullivan, Brianna Sweet and Colson make up the cast. Topics for the segments include relationships, body image, family, social justice, healing, health, wellness and hope.

Sullivan’s “Ignite,” Kallie Marrison’s “Jumbled Thoughts of Isolation,” MacCreery’s “Looking Glass,” Smith’s “One Spark Leads to a Flame,” Sweet’s “Unwanted” and “We Can Thrive,” Kallie and Makayla’s, “Sisters,” and Le’s “Connection” and “Sandy, the Twins, and the Dodge Caravan” make up the mini-films.

“I was not only asking my students to be writers, I was asking them to be filmmakers,” Colson said. “Theater and film rely on the continued proliferation of new material. I have strived to construct platforms that encourage artists to tell their stories for the first time.”

The entire project was done virtually. Jade Smith is the video editor and Robert Fernholz is the technical director. Colson, who will give a curtain speech before the premiere, has a wish for viewers of “What’s Next?”

“Hopefully, they will connect to the same thing that we witnessed,” he said. “That we are not alone. That we will become whole or stronger again thanks to our shared experiences.”

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