We started rehearsals for Rhinoceros amidst a global pandemic, the Portland Protests, and as wildfires erupted in Oregon. With most of the company living on or near Reed’s campus, we gathered online from smoky rooms and apartments, bags packed in case of evacuation. The second week of rehearsal, the State of Kentucky declined to charge with murder any of the police officers who murdered Breonna Taylor, and the following weekend far right groups gathered in Portland. We thought about systems of oppression and the ways that the play critiques fascism. We talked about the virus imagery in the script. And through the protests, through the pandemic, we continued to gather each week night, and found that even in the most extreme circumstances, and even on Zoom, we could—and did—make community. This is what we do in theatre. We recorded audio from closets and blanket forts, we arranged socially distanced costume pickups and script drop offs, we had stage managers Zoom-ing in from Portland, Boston, and Las Vegas. I directed actors I’ve never met in person. We met weekly for online social hours because we missed each other when we weren’t all called for the same rehearsals. And now, over the course of these anxious weeks surrounding the election, we embark each night on an artistic process unlike any we’ve ever encountered; each day a surprise and an opportunity.
Along the way we’ve made discoveries about the text, too. The play is usually considered as a warning about the rise of fascism because of the way the rhinoceroses multiply and spread over the course of the play; this is what drew me to want to stage it in the first place. But what if, as Assistant Stage Manager August Singer pointed out early in our process, the rhinoceroses are the hope in the world of this play, and that, over the course of the three acts, we see a return to nature and an erasure of humans and the harm we’ve caused? This play is certainly a criticism of both human complacency and ego. What if it’s a good thing to become a rhinoceroses? We see this most clearly in the character of Madame Boeuf in Act II, who leaps with joy and love into the world of the rhinoceroses. Perhaps, in the world of this play, the humans are the virus and the play signals that we are need of great change—total transformation—right now.
Transformation is a part of the way co-producer Caitlin Cisek and I have thought about how to present this play to you too. We didn’t want to make a Zoom play. So we started to think about what we could do in a pandemic that we couldn’t do in person. We arrived at the idea to offer you Rhinoceros as a serial, so that the form mirrors the play’s preoccupation with accumulation. We present you each of the play’s three acts, one week apart, with each in a different format. Rhinoceros starts as a podcast; we introduce you to the world of the play exclusively through sound. Then, in Act Two, images join the sound in our on screen graphic novel. Act Three progresses to include full body movement as a film, which we recorded so that no two actors ever appear in the same frame. Our hope is to create a sense of a growing ongoing story that audiences can experience in different ways.
My favourite thing about making theatre is that with each production, we get the chance to make a community with our company, and, then, we get to tell a story to an audience; in doing so, our community grows. Thank you for choosing to spend some of your time with us—either week by week, or all at once. We offer you Rhinoceros as a warning, but also a tale of hope. We have sought with this production to engage each other, and also our campus and local communities—please check out the community engagement resources on this page and donate, share, help raise awareness, and vote. Your voice matters. Resist. Dissent. Fight. Thank you for joining us.
-Kate Bredeson, Director