Imagine this: you’re in your sophomore year of college, working hard in your classes and getting into the swing of things as you gear up for spring break. Now imagine that suddenly everyone you hung out with on campus has to go home, and now, you live, work, and study alone. What would you do with your free time?
Well, Wren Ramos ’22 filled his extra time last spring semester and the following summer writing and directing a play titled What We Have. The play won the Trinity playwriting competition hosted by President Danny Anderson last spring semester, and it showcases how human connection is kept alive even over Zoom.
Anderson had originally gone to Trinity’s theatre department in early April to see if any Zoom plays were on the docket for the theatre program. When he found out that none existed yet, he decided to create a competition for students to create their own. He helped create the guidelines and then set it up so that only Trinity students could compete. The play had to be about Zoom, on Zoom, and in addition to having their play produced, there would be prize money for the winner.
Wren was one of the few students who remained on campus after the University closed during spring break because of the spread of COVID-19. The inspiration for the play came from his journaling during this time. Wren began journaling as a mental health outlet and a way of writing things down during all of the uncertainty. “I was like, ‘At least I’m still at Trinity,’ but Trinity wasn’t the same without the people,” he says. “It was a conglomeration of trying to get used to living alone, connect with other people, and the only way to see anyone was through Zoom. It was lonely.”
At first, the play was one long, autobiographical poem, describing the spring semester, what he went through, and what it felt like to only see your loved ones through a computer screen. Wren edited the play down from there, distributing it amongst different Zoom functions, creating characters, and articulating how each function led to bigger ways of connecting with people before submitting it to be judged.
Less than a month later, he was notified that his play was selected. On top of winning the contest, the chosen play was then going to be produced by Trinity’s theatre department. “I wasn’t really prepared for that,” he says. “That’s very nerve-wracking. It’s kind of like if your diary had been published and then was going to be put on by multiple actors and directed for six weeks.”
The human communication and theatre department reached out to the Trinity University Players (TUPS) to produce the play, which Wren has been a member of for two years prior. TUPS is Trinity’s student-run theater company, which puts on shows for the University and surrounding community. TUPS was looking for directors, and Wren decided to take a hands-on role with the script he wrote, stepping up to direct the production.
Wren also brought on his friend, biology major Taylor Condron ’22, to stage manage the production. She spent time working with Wren after he returned to Houston in the summer, arranging virtual auditions and setting up schedules that worked for the many people involved.
“Every day was something new,” Taylor says. “It was very real for a lot of people. It wasn’t just trying to become these characters–they were these characters, and everybody was experiencing this as it was going on.”
After setting up for production and casting actors, Wren emphasized fluidity and actor expression. “I wanted it to be as faithful as possible to what happened,” Wren says, “so I told the actors that if they felt they had something they wanted to change, go ahead. Do your own and add to the script. I wanted it to be kind of like a time capsule of what it was like in the first couple of months, not knowing if you were going to see everyone again in four months, eight months, a year, if school was even starting, and that's what it became.”
Everything was rehearsed and recorded over Zoom. They then cut the recordings into different scenes and different takes, creating a production performed entirely over Zoom.
“It turned out much cooler than we imagined. It's been a great way to encourage creativity and spirit among students,” says theatre professor Andew Hansen.
Wren and Taylor wondered how they could use the show to help provide those struggling from the pandemic with relief. They decided to help support their community by turning it into a fundraiser.
They wanted something that was going to impact both the local and national communities, so the funds from the show will go to benefit two charities: the San Antonio COVID-19 Response Fund and the Emergent Fund. The San Antonio COVID-19 Response Fund supports locals impacted by the pandemic either through job loss or supply shortages, and the Emergent Fund focuses support for immigrants, women, Muslim and Arab-American communities, Black people, Indigenous communities, LGBTQ communities, and all people of color.
The funds donated will be a conglomeration of donations from the original premiere at New Student Orientation and from the upcoming event on Sept. 25.
“That’s why we gave it our all,” Wren says. “There was something so wholehearted about putting yourself in something where you’re stuck inside and giving yourself something active to do. Writing your feelings, acting them out, in a greater cause that impacts more than just you. It wasn’t just theater for theater’s sake; it was theater for everyone trying to get through this.”
What We Have will stream on the Tiger Network on Friday, Sept. 25, at 7 p.m. Though the showing is free, you can make a donation. A live Q&A will follow after the event with Wren, Taylor, and actor Andrew Walker ’23.