Theatre for Youth Audiences

Actors in the Theatre for Youth Audiences production “Hen Hears Gossip” rehearse for the play which will be performed via Zoom on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. 

East Carolina University School of Theatre and Dance's Theatre for Youth Audiences (TYA) club will present a production of a student written play called “Hen Hears Gossip” via Zoom on Feb. 25 at 6:30 p.m. and the performance will be followed by a Q&A session with the cast.

The link for the show is available in TYA’s Instagram bio, according to senior musical theatre major Chase Coston who is the president of TYA and the playwright of “Hen Hears Gossip.” He said the play follows the main character, Hen, and how her gossiping habit causes problems all over the barnyard. He said it includes characters such as a Scottish horse, southern farmer and a goose from Wisconsin.

Coston said he wrote the play as a part of his playwriting and dramatic literature for children class, and he will continue to serve as the playwright in residence for the production. He said he wrote the play for either adults to put on for children or for high school drama classes to perform for students at elementary and middle schools.

“It can be done with any age and it even has jokes in there that only the parents will get, like all good children’s movies and plays do. So it’s really for everyone, but the lessons and the morals of the play are geared toward those ages about five to 13,” Coston said.

TYA is an organization made up of East Carolina University theatre students, Coston said. It holds open auditions for anyone in the School of Theatre and Dance regardless of membership in TYA. He said they try to mainly put on student written productions.

Coston said not much had to be done to the script to adapt it to a Zoom setting. He said he wrote in stage directions and designs that would be in his dream production, but when it came time to it, he said all they needed to bring the play to life were the actors, costumes and time. He said even though the show is mainly for children, the underlying message is relatable to everyone.

“I think ‘Hen Hears Gossip’ gives life to a time when we’re all struggling to just have a little fun every now and then. It’s some lighthearted comedy, you don’t have to think too much, and everyone can relate to this idea about not knowing where information is coming from, but still being interested enough in it to talk about it,” Coston said.

Emily Sobken, a junior theatre education major, TYA secretary and director of “Hen Hears Gossip,” said she most looks forward to the opportunity to work with and uplift the cast of the production. She said she has become proficient at manipulating Zoom in preparation for this production for a seamless presentation.

The production team has utilized virtual backgrounds and planned how the actors' cameras will be oriented so characters will face each other properly, Sobken said. She said they suggest audience members use the “hide non-video participants” option in Zoom so only the actors will be visible.

“All of the actors are in their sort of own space, or sort of in their own isolation, so we really have to create the physicality of the animals to portray the story as well as the use of camera angles, and we can have the characters face each other in Zoom, and create the illusion that they’re in the same room,” Sobken said.

The play’s humor appeals to older children and adults, while still appropriate for younger children, Sobken said. She said the story captures the ideas of inclusion and the importance of communication, which is a topic all audiences may find they need to work on.

Senior theatre for youth major Cassie Murray said “Hen Hears Gossip” will be her first production with TYA and she will play the Goose and Crow Chick No. 2. She said the Goose will have a nasally Wisconsin accent.

“I’m really excited to play the main character I’m playing, the Goose. She is just so funny, so sassy, and I just, I love her character. I have read through the play and every time I read it to get to know my character even more, I just get more and more excited about playing the Goose,” Murray said.

Compared to a traditional on-stage production, Murray said a Zoom production is completely different. She said the the energy is different when not physically together with the other cast members. She said the virtual format also adds the challenges of managing the technology required.

Murray said although the technology does present some additional issues, the fact that the cast is made up of great people she enjoys working with will also help her to keep her energy up.

“I’m going to be performing in my apartment, and, you know, I’ve done that before and being in an apartment there are distractions, you know you have people above you being loud, you have traffic outside loudly. But what really helps me is I kind of just like try to quiet myself and just kind of get ready for the character,” Murray said.

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