New, Live-Streamed, and Written by Your Classmates: Unfix the Stars

MBU Theatre’s Unfix the Stars is like no play that has come before it. 

It distinctly captures the current moment in time through its story and characters, and through the way it’s made. 

“I began the process with a kind of scenario — a premise about a situation that the other student collaborators could find open enough to engage with and expand,” said Brian Granger, assistant professor of theatre, who is leading the production. “But everything else — from the naming of characters to deciding on the plot threads of the characters — has come about from collaborative group imagining.”

Unfix the Stars is an original work that Granger and MBU students have created together in real time. Both the staging and the story itself occur over Zoom. The play’s characters wrestle with timely challenges from the pandemic to racial violence. 

“It gives students an opportunity to work on the frontier of online theatre in a year in which the need for this kind of theater has never been more apparent,” said assistant director Keith Taylor ’21, MLitt ’22.

MBU students in rehearsal for the original Zoom-based play Unfix the Stars, running virtually October 21 through 25.

A virtual setting for the play means cast rehearsals and performances can be conducted over the web, safeguarding the health of performers and audience members.  

“Letting students speak about the issues they wanted to speak about, in an original Zoom-based play, seemed like it would address both our concerns about safety during the pandemic and about MBU Theatre responding directly to this national moment,” said Granger, who joined the MBU faculty last year. 

About Unfix the Stars

The 2016 graduating class of Belle Boyd High School is celebrating their five-year high school reunion on Zoom, only a few weeks after a troubled classmate was murdered in a racial incident. Class President Faith Harrows thinks they should give the significant amount of money raised for the class gift to that classmate’s family, but will fellow alums agree? Representing just one of a number of strong perspectives and engaging plotlines in the play, Faith joins a cast of all-too-human but lively characters in a Zoom reunion like no other. Come join these former classmates as they gather together and explore what remains of their once strong sense of community.

The play’s title is taken from an essay by James Baldwin.

“I began the process with a kind of scenario … but everything else has come about from collaborative group imagining.”
— Assistant Professor of Theatre Brian Granger, director

The first few weeks of rehearsal were dedicated to writing the text of the play, with cast members contributing to the workshopping process. 

“I’m so glad to have been a part of this show,” actor and co-writer Jessa Balough ’21 said. “It’s taught me a lot about my abilities as an actor and as a writer (who knew I could write?!), but it’s also connected me with a wonderful group of students I never would have worked with otherwise.”

Through honest conversations, the co-creators gave thought and care to character development as they decided how the story would play out. 

“All students involved shaped the play,” Granger said. “Sometimes our group conversations would get very direct around the issue of diversity and perspectives: ‘Is this character male or female, or non-binary?’ or ‘I don’t know how I feel about a black male character also being involved with drugs. Why can’t they be a college graduate?’ and so on. Everyone handled these conversations — and the various questions they raised — with great grace and openness.” 

Now in virtual rehearsal before opening night on October 21, the cast and crew are redefining how theatre works when the stage is a video conference. Some days laptop microphones don’t pick up a voice, or wi-fi runs slowly. 

As the pandemic forces people to take on unfamiliar roles, theatre students, too, must become their own technical directors and stage managers. And learn to roll with the unexpected.

“I never imagined theatre relying so strongly on technology to connect us,” said actor and co-writer Maddie Wright ’24. “We learn to adapt and we find ways to solve the technical difficulties thrown at us. This experience has truly pushed us all as entertainers, and I can’t wait to share it with the community.”       

Unfix the Stars reflects life during challenging times. It also gives creators and audience members the chance to process what is happening in the world and tap into shared experiences. Physically distanced, but emotionally connected. 

“I hope that people take away from the play that everyone has a story,” said actor and co-writer Lemuel Robertson ’21. “A story that matters. And that their story deserves to be told. Everyone has a voice. Surround yourself with people who want to hear it.”

Unfix the Stars
Created and directed by Dr. Brian Granger and students of Mary Baldwin University Theatre

Performance Dates: Five Live-Streamed Shows 

7 p.m. on October 21, 22, 23 and 24
2 p.m. on October 25

Free and open to the public.

Please check the event listing for information on how to view the live-streamed performance.

Jessa Balough ’21
Tim Briggs, graduate student, Shakespeare and Performance
Brooke Crittenden ’24
Chrissy Frazier ’24
Emily Grzybowski ’22
Talford Hayden ’24
Kinzy Messer ’23
Ella Pellagrino ’24
Jacob Robeck ’24
Lemuel Robertson ’21
Kyle Showalter ’22
Maddie Wright ’24