MSU’s ‘Audio Anthology’: Drama heard, not seen

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COVID-19 stifled the Michigan State University Theatre Department’s ability to offer live shows, but the pandemic has not muted student creativity. The “Audio Anthology” collection, available at theatre.msu.edu/dei_audio/, demonstrates how the department is continuing to create imaginative projects during restricted times.

“Audio Anthology” has a deliberate focus on diversity, equity and inclusion. The five, sound-only segments are mini audio plays inspired by dozens of poems from diverse artists. Each play is a genuine teaching moment.

Students worked virtually to discuss the variety of poems that were the starting point for plays that focus on separate issues. Deric McNish is the faculty coordinator who oversaw the process.

“Audio Anthology” sounds like radio shows of the past — complete with sound effects, background noises and occasional music. Each show examines the prejudices and barriers to inclusion. None of the recorded conversations sound like mere readings. Being able to access the original scripts onsite is an added bonus.

“So Close, Yet” was written by Cole Dzubak and Sam Carter. Carter, Kayla Katona and Nate Davis are the voices. The nine-minute and 21-second play spotlights some failures of American public school’s sex education, displaying how the sex information needs of women and LGBTQ members are often ignored.

Mary Claire Zauel’s, about-six-minute “For Detroit” shows the ignorance of a white Traverse City boy who’s on a first date with a Black Detroit native. Dzubak plays the boy and Keturah Heath is his date. Her pride for her home — and for who she is — is lost on her clueless companion.

The five-minute “Missing Link” opens our eyes to dilemmas multi-race people face. The play’s author Nealmonté Alexander struggles with being intimate and being “Black enough” or “Latino enough.” His conversation with Laura Sansoterra reveals the layers of difficulties the character encounters.

Sansoterra, Davis and Jason Dernay collaborated on the six-minute and 20-second “She’s the Wo(Man).” Sansotera, Davis and Zauel perform in the sound skit about a broadcast interview where the host asks very different questions to a woman and a man — both successful business people. “She’s the Wo(Man)” reminds us how unfairly women are treated and regarded compared to men in similar roles.

The fifth “Audio Anthology” play, “Now Say Hello,” combines different scenarios in eight minutes and 47 seconds about a gay man’s search for self-love. Four settings reveal his anguish with strangers, his mom, teachers and himself. The play exposes how difficult coming out can be. 

Ben Barber is the author and Barber, Dernay, Zauel, Katona, Heath, Carter and Ian Klahre complete the cast. Like all the segments in the “Audio Anthology,” “Now Say Hello” features realistic conversations that aren’t always easy to listen to but always make us think.

As McNish puts it, “If one person listens to one of these plays and becomes a little bit more empathetic, if they become a little bit more kind — maybe if they just listen a little bit better, this will be time well spent.”

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