The cast and crew of Shanghai have traveled an arduous path to reach the show’s upcoming online production, which takes place from Wednesday, May 19, through Sunday, May 23, on Zoom (bit.ly/3bzGBSF) through the UCSB Theater Department’s Launch Pad program. Nevertheless, their slog through quarantine pales in comparison to the brutal journey that the play depicts, which is the escape of a Jewish family from Nazi persecution, first to Italy, and then to the last place that would take them in 1937: Shanghai. Once there, the story focuses on Eva Broder, who’s 13 at the time of the family’s flight and 35 by the end of the play, and how she manages to carve out a life and an identity for herself under such difficult circumstances.
Originally intended as an in-person mainstage production at UCSB, complete with an elaborate set, lighting, and sound design, the show had to be completely rethought after playwright Linda Alper and director Sara Rademacher agreed that they would go forward with an online production in order to be able to present something this spring. Thanks to the dedication and talent of UCSB’s theater students and the department’s professional staff, dozens of boxes full of props, costumes, lights, and microphones were shipped to the cast wherever they were located. As a result, the show will go on replete with the kind of sophisticated design work that is a hallmark of every Launch Pad production. The program provides these elements because playwrights need that input as they go through the final stages of revision. According to Rademacher, “design is one of the key things that gives writers an idea of what needs to be developed in the script.” For veteran actor and playwright Alpert, who has created theater in Taiwan as a Senior Fulbright Fellow, the shift to Zoom has been a challenge because it cuts down on the ways in which performers can interact with one another physically, but it has also been a blessing, because one of the actors, Lucy Ma, who plays Mei, is actually in China, and “that’s kind of wonderful.”