‘Airness’ at UCSB

New Play About Air Guitar Explores Freedom and Joy

Credit: Courtesy

Last spring, Kate Bergstrom was set to direct Airness, Chelsea Marcantel’s comedy about people entered in an air-guitar competition. It would have been her debut as a guest artist/lecturer in the UCSB Theater program. Then COVID hit, and suddenly everything was, well, up in the air — until she got a call from the playwright.

“The faculty at UCSB asked if I’d be willing to do it on Zoom, and these two digital designers, Vickie Scott and Corwin Evans, jumped in, really game to make something wild happen,” Bergstrom said. “And as soon as the UCSB students came in, I was inspired by their resilience.”

Although Marcantel wrote Airness prior to COVID-19, Bergstrom emphasizes that its message will resonate strongly with audiences who are grappling with how to get through the pandemic.

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“Achieving ‘airness’ in Chelsea’s script is achieving the freedom you feel dancing to your favorite song as a child, or jumping on your bed,” Bergstrom said. “It is the internal landscape that we all deserve to know from one another as adults that we keep hidden away. The play is about bringing that out and finding that radical joy.”

Bergstrom continued, adding that “We don’t only need each other to better one another’s lives; we need the fullness of ourselves…. A big part of the play is forgiveness and forgiving ourselves and one another for the times we couldn’t do it.”

Bergstrom, who co-teaches a course called “Performing the Internet” at New York University, describes Airness as a “collectivist art project” that has, through trial and error, turned into a hybrid live-action animated feature. By utilizing the program Open Broadcaster Software (OBS), the Airness team has created a performance that goes beyond being just another Zoom reading.

“The actors’ Zoom screens are being interfaced with these other faces that are either being filmed in real life or are animated,” Bergstrom said. “The actors are in their own homes, filming on a Zoom screen, and they have been composited with projection video designs of these moments of air guitar.”

Bergstrom praised Airness’s animation and graphic designer Maison “Bub” Bray for having a “radical attitude about life” and for embodying “airness,” which is the “spirit underneath the show.”

Through OBS, the set, an animated bar that Bub Bray created, is projected as a background for the actors’ Zoom screens, making it appear to viewers that they are all looking at and interacting with each other in the same space.

Although it was an adjustment to rehearse and prepare for such a new kind of performance, Bergstrom expressed feelings of gratitude and pride for her cast and crew, who “have gone above and beyond. They are brilliant young actors who are all just pros at making things work in a brand-new medium.”

Part of the art is not hiding how the show has been made and how it is being performed. Bergstrom explained that the piece “was made during the pandemic for a pandemic audience, and it’s all about keeping spirits up and keeping people feeling engaged and warmed by everyone’s goodwill and presence.”

Airness will go live on March 4 at 5:30 p.m., followed by a live Zoom Q&A. The performance will be available to watch or rewatch until March 7. For more information, visit theaterdance.ucsb.edu. To watch the opening night performance and participate in the Q&A, go to bit.ly/37oYmBE. To watch the play on demand from March 4 through March 7, go to bit.ly/37o8LgQ.

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