CNM Theatre Students Find Inventive Ways to Create a New Series of Online Plays

All the works are being launched as radio plays, but that didn’t hold students back from telling funny, spooky, and moving stories
November 05, 2020

When a group of CNM students enrolled in the 2019 Playwriting class they thought their work would eventually end up on a stage. Then COVID-19 hit and everything changed. Everyone was stuck at home and in-person plays became impossible.

That didn’t stop the students. For nearly a year now, they’ve continued to write, edit, and adapt their works, which now live on as radio plays, several of which are already up on major podcast sites.

“We were still desperate to make entertainment because that’s what makes us happy, that’s what we live for,” says Theatre student Gavin Barrera. 

All the radio plays are being launched as part of the CATLab Presents series. The themes are varied and diverse. One play is a retelling of the Adam and Eve story, but it’s set on a spaceship instead of in the Garden of Eden. Another play is a romantic comedy where a couple breaks up and then gets back together only to find out that one person has become a vampire. There’s another story about a man looking back at his life and realizing that his biggest mistakes were decisions he never made, and another about a Native American woman who has run away but wants to come back to her family. 

Theatre Instructor Leonard Madrid, who directs the CATLab Presents series and oversaw the plays, says moving online presented some challenges. For example, theatre productions are all about building community amongst the writers, actors, and everyone else involved. He says the crew was able to meet online, but that’s not the same as hanging out between breaks or chatting in the parking lot after rehearsal. Student Christopher Wertman says he and the other students also missed the immediate feedback that a live production creates. 

“When you’re in front of a live audience you quickly understand that one scene might be funnier than you thought and another scene might be too confusing,” he says. “Right now we have no idea how people are responding.”  

At the same time, moving online also allowed many students to expand their approach. Instead of being confined to the Coal Avenue Theatre—where the plays are usually held—Leonard says students were able to use writing and sound design to effectively transport the listener to places as far afield as outer space. He says students were also able to recruit and collaborate with actors across the country since everything was done via a computer.

“If you’re a Native American playwright, being able to work with national Native American actors is a huge benefit,” Madrid says. 

There are currently three CATLab Presents plays available for download. Three more will be released over the coming weeks. You can find all the plays here.