Aliki and Moriah ask, Do You Know Me?
Words and Images courtesy of Aliki Marie Pantas Semones, Moriah Joy. Logo courtesy of Virginia Stage Company/ ODURep.
During the Pandemic, many people have reflected inwards on themselves. For this theatre community, we have focused on using that time for reflection as a way to create performance art in a safe and accessible way. We are thankful to have been a part of the show Do You Know Me? co-directed by Patrick Mullins and Priya Vashist. In the show, we explore what it means to be an outsider, through various lenses utilizing personal experience through monologues and poetry, inspired by the ancient Greek romance novel Apollonius of Tyre and Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors. Do You Know Me? was created in collaboration with Virginia Stage Company's Public Works Virginia and is supported by the Hellenic Studies Endowment.
Aliki Semones & Moriah Joy wanted to share their experiences of working on this project.
Q: How has this project been different from other theatre projects in the past?
Aliki: While this was my second virtual production, it was the first time I was acting in one. In my first virtual show, I assisted with crew & the show was mostly recorded via zoom, except for a couple of scenes. I’ve submitted self taped auditions for film & tv before, so that part wasn’t new to me. I also have experience in film as an actor & producer, and have done a couple shows that were multimedia. However, this was the first time I was acting for a stage production, and we recorded it all for film.
This was the first time I was a part of the writing process for a show & contributed my own story to the narrative. I think I misunderstood that our process would be like this when I initially auditioned; however, it turned out to be a beautiful surprise and something that I really needed to experience artistically and emotionally. It was sometimes challenging to be vulnerable truthfully about myself with a group of strangers in a short period of time. Yet, we bonded so quickly - likely because everyone had amazing, approachable and compassionate personalities, and we were all sharing personal things together. I have never bonded with a cast as quickly as I did with this production. I am thankful that our show was filmed instead of performed live because of how intense this show was on me physically because of my health.
Moriah: This was the first time I have ever done a show that was completely virtual for the rehearsal process and I honestly had no idea what to expect. During my audition video, I was so nervous I was having a hard time getting a take where I didn’t want to throw my computer across the room. A large part of my process as an actor is gauging the audience or at least having other actors to bounce chemistry and energy off of. This process was also the first time I didn’t have a script to work off of during the rehearsal process. I wasn’t embodying a character or researching a time period, I was finding ways to express myself and tell a story that I thought would relate to other people. This was challenging for me in that I’ve overcome a lot of hardships in my life, but there are some that I’m not at a point where I am willing to share those details. However, I think Patrick’s words “Share your scars, not your wounds” really helped me to shape the story that I do end up telling for the piece in addition to the everyone being so supportive during the process.
I also related to Aly in that whenever I’ve written a show or contributed writing it is typically to create a world either entirely different from my own or for someone else to perform my experience. This process has also been completely different from the perspective that I have been able to watch myself both in the rehearsal process and the performance as well.
Q: You both talk about the need to bond with other cast members and draw from the energy of others in the room with you when performing. How did virtual rehearsals impact the relationships between cast members?
Aliki: In some ways being virtual helped me feel safe to share things with my cast. I was in the comfort of my own home and had my husband usually nearby, so I felt safe to share these things. But I also think that because I have come so far in my healing journey, that also helped me be vulnerable with my cast. There was something so incredibly comforting and familiar with my cast- it felt like I knew them longer than the few weeks we had spent together rehearsing and creating our show. Sometimes I did wish that we were together in person because I desperately wanted to hug my fellow actors after they shared some incredibly vulnerable and painful things. We really bonded. They feel like family now. I will miss being with them on a daily basis. I am so incredibly thankful to Patrick and Priya for inviting us to create this show. It’s been a new, interesting, and emotional experience that I didn’t know I needed.
Also, as a differently-abled artist, I found working virtually to be very comforting physically. When normally I would be too ill to work in person/ drive/ etc, I was able to work from the comfort of my home, ice as needed, lay down as needed, etc. I really appreciated that. However, I know that if I was in person, my directors would have accommodated me also.
Moriah: Technology can be a barrier for a lot of people but I felt like having the virtual rehearsals really allowed for cast bonding deeper and quicker than most shows. Part of this was because we often would utilize the chat room to encourage our cast members when their stories resonated with something that we had gone through. I also think because we were using our real life experience to develop the show, people came to the rehearsal process with a level of honesty that inherently creates vulnerability. I think being virtual also helped add to the idea of a space, allowing us to have discussions that felt productive about difficult topics. It was really beautiful to experience.
Q: What was the writing process like? What exercises really stood out to you?
Aliki: Our writing process really surprised and challenged me. I used to love writing, journaling, creative writing - everything. Then many years ago, I lost my drive and passion for it. My emotions, my fears, they muted me. This show challenged me to open that creative writing again and to share my story - any story that I wanted to share. Sometimes I would share funny anecdotes from my life. Sometimes, I was able to share vulnerable things about my past and present, including my low self esteem and feeling worthless. I explored sharing these things on my own and guided from prompts by Patrick and an artist named Testimony. Some of Patrick’s writing assignments included introducing yourself as a superhero. I really struggled with this because I can’t see positive things in myself (as I mention in the show). I couldn’t see myself as a hero, but rather, I saw myself as my own weakness and villain. I was constantly having internal conflicts with myself. I was able to explore this further when Testimony gave us a writing prompt called “I am ____ enough”. This is what prompted my poem that the show opens with. I was able to share my inner thoughts of self doubt. It was incredibly difficult to do - even more difficult going on camera and recording it for the internet to view! But I did it. I hope that sharing my story resonates with any audience members struggling with those similar thoughts.
Moriah: The writing process for the show was really intriguing because it was a mixture of writing songs, poems, and monologues and finding ways to tell stories through movement. I really liked that there was a mixture of group work and solo work because I felt like it strengthened the bond of the cast and also allowed for a more collaborative process when rehearsals could have consisted of only solo work to help us focus just on the final presentation. This mentality was probably my favorite part of the experience of this show. I’m a very goal oriented thinker, and the combination of smaller projects helped me understand the type of poetic language and the overall themes we wanted our show to focus on. One of the first things that we started with was a read through of A Comedy of Errors that had slight modern modifications to see how elevated and contemporary language can coexist to create something that is both literary and relatable. One of my favorite exercises was a prompt where we drew a person with rings around them and filled each ring with things that make us feel at home (inner thoughts, people, and objects or places). Then we had to construct a poem building a house that consisted of those things, with a surrounding neighborhood made of things that made us feel like outsiders. This was also the inspiration for my story that I tell in the show.
General Show Information
Tickets for “Do You Know Me?” are $5 at http://oduartstix.com/ and the show can be viewed from midnight March 18th to noon on March 22nd.
Warning: The show contains adult themes, and includes discussions of racism, homophobia, and sexual assault that may be triggering to some people.