TDPS’ ‘Unstable Connection’ is strong portrayal of student life during pandemic

Unstable Connections
TDPS/Courtesy

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In the new norm of a virtual semester, it has been amazing to see the student response to the pandemic, especially in regards to the newfound creativity, ingenuity and persevering spirit that students have showcased in recent months. UC Berkeley’s own Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies (TDPS) department is no exception, as they present an original devised theater piece entitled “Unstable Connection.”

Above all else, this show helps to bring student voices and experiences to the forefront of the conversation. Using students’ personal experiences — specifically from March 13, the day classes were moved online indefinitely — and forming them into monologues spliced throughout the play, the show itself remains wholeheartedly honest and impassioned. These monologues help to dictate the wide display of emotions felt as the pandemic seeped into academic life, whether it be initial relief, worry, anger or fear in response to the cancellation of classes. All of the actors giving these monologues portrayed their stories effectively with ease, letting the audience know that the pandemic hasn’t been easy for them — as is the case with much of the UC Berkeley student body. 

The play also diversifies its perspective, adding in as many absurd pandemic specific experiences as it can during its 75-minute run. Through the use of audio-only phone call moments, the show was segmented into smaller parts and provided more visibility to specific, pandemic-centered experiences, such as someone’s mother getting COVID-19 and the heart-wrenching emotions that come along with that. One of the more choreographed moments featured the students simultaneously ripping pieces of paper, iterating the divisions between different identities within society. It was an insightful moment, providing a solemn visual representation of the divisiveness that seems pervasive during the pandemic, especially the vitriolic hatred that has come to light in recent months. While some of these reenactments can feel cringeworthy at times, they’re still reflective representations of real-life scenarios and feel close to such, as the actors fully commit to these moments in every sense. 

While focusing on the experiences of students in relation to the pandemic, “Unstable Connection” also masterfully covers the ever pertinent Black Lives Matter movement, especially as protests consumed the news over the summer. As the actors took on roles for a fictitious, satirical “Zoom Protest,” they astutely brought to light the problematic behaviors that can exist in activist spaces and the performative nature of some activists, whether intentional or not, especially in the context of a virtual format. Taking on these roles helped to express real concerns that students have in regards to activism, such as being negatively punished in their academic career for protesting. These actors add their own passion to representing student activists, showing their frustration, or in the cases in which they were the problem, the obvious annoyances they were causing. “Unstable Connection,” by putting actors of color, especially Black actors, in place to amplify their experience with the rise of this movement, remains focused on centering not just student voices in general, but specifically those who most deserve the space to be heard. 

Ultimately, the show succeeds because of the cast’s cohesiveness as an ensemble: TDPS’ ‘Unstable Connection’ is strong portrayal of student life during pandemic “Unstable Connections” wasn’t about one person’s experience, but rather the experiences of these students and the greater community as a whole, as the last few months have been such a whirlwind for everyone. By seamlessly acting as a collective force in portraying their own stories, these eight actors are able to effectively communicate their experiences, one voice not outshining the others. In a way, they emphasize the importance of community at this time, working together as a unit even though they cannot be physically together, only virtually. 

“Unstable Connection,” exists as a unique yet insightful way of highlighting what UC Berkeley students are feeling right now. By amplifying student voices, especially students of color, at a vulnerable and unprecedented time, this piece can hopefully help those struggling with a virtual semester feel less alone, in solidarity with their fellow students as they creatively work to push for positive change.

Caitlin Keller covers theater. Contact her at [email protected]. Tweet her at @caitlinkeller20.