Liam Roos, Yisel Ortiz, and Associate Professor Michael Flannery checking footage during production of the School of Theatre’s web series I ❤️ Collaboration. Photo credit: Jannida Chase

I❤️Collaboration, a thirteen-part web series developed by students and faculty in the School of Theatre, School of Music, and Department of Media Studies can be seen as a training ground, a recruiting tool, and now, as a contender in a comedy film festival.

More about that later. First, let’s roll back the tape to where it all started:

“We’d been talking for years—even before the pandemic made us take everything online for a while—about adding some sort of video component to our theatre season,” says Michael Flannery, Associate Professor of Acting for the Camera. “We did a trio of short films two years ago, and I thought this time it would be fun to do a mockumentary, something sort of like The Office.”

Flannery worked with two students, Andre Otabor and Jeffrey Payton, both seniors in the BFA Acting Program, to brainstorm what that might look like. They wound up with a story about college students whose final exam is hijacked by the graduate teaching assistant who was humiliated by someone in the class, and they are forced to complete a scavenger hunt to pass.

Payton and Otabor each wrote or co-wrote with Flannery and directed some of the episodes.

Otabor feels like the experience has set him up for success in the professional world:

“It’s always great to work on different kinds of projects and different kinds of sets. Working on the web series has prepared me for all kinds of other projects. It was nice getting to know and work with students in other majors. And, because I’m not used to working with huge teams, this was a great opportunity to learn how to do just that!”

Theatre students made up the cast and did some of the crew work. Flannery teamed up Media Studies Assistant Professor Jannida Chase and Lecturer Hassan Pitts for their expertise with production and cinematography. They made I❤️Collaboration the primary focus of two of their classes. Those students ran the cameras and microphones, gathered props, and scouted locations.

For sound, Flannery looked to Mark Engebretson, Professor of Composition in the School of Music:

“I went to Mark with not as much time to work on this as I should have, but Mark and his PopTech students really came through. Each week I gave Mark a rough cut and he’d get a student to score it— a different student for almost every episode. They added so much to the project. There’s one episode that takes place in a coffee shop and so they came up with music that is that kind of mellow sound you hear in coffee shops. I would never have thought of doing that.”

Otabor says working with non-Theatre majors was a highlight:

“They taught me things that I didn’t know, and the learning went both ways. Some of the actors had never been around cameras, so they didn’t have much technical knowledge. Some of the Media Studies students hadn’t been around actors, so that gave them the experience of working with a cast. I feel as though we all learned a lot from one another.”

Flannery says the addition of a video component is beneficial to the School of Theatre in several ways:

“Some students just know they want to pursue careers in TV or film rather than live theatre. And even for those who want to be stage actors, we hope we are preparing them for varied career opportunities. The truth of the matter is that they are much more likely to wind up doing this kind of work than they are to land a position with a Shakespeare Festival somewhere. Unfortunately, that is just the way of the theatre world right now.”

The School of Theatre is also starting to see some results from projects like I❤️Collaboration in terms of recruiting future students. According to Flannery:

“We are starting to gain a reputation for offering this well-rounded training. I just got a call from a prospective student in Arizona who wants to audition for our BFA Acting program because we have this video component. And the leadership here is very supportive of these projects. Natalie [Sowell, School of Theatre Director] plans for us to shoot a series of some sort every spring then screen in the fall in the first two weeks of the semester. That’s smart in terms of our season, too, because we can’t get a theatre production up until at least late September or early October.”

This semester, the School of Theatre is shooting six microfilms, one of them written by Flannery, another co-written by Flannery and Otabor. Two of the films were written by alumni Chris Raddatz (’12 BFA Theatre) and Adam Kampouris (’14 BFA Theatre). They will all screen in Fall 2024.

Flannery hopes to pick back up with another series collaboration soon. He would like to work with the Department of Media Studies and School of Music again and maybe add another partner, the School of Art:

“Art students could work on the production design—creating the tone and visuals with the sets. It would be great to get Animation students involved doing graphics for credits and such. We’re always hearing we should be collaborating, and I❤️Collaboration, was a vehicle that helped us make that happen.”

Now, back to the film festival. Flannery recalls:

“Jannida said, ‘I think I want to enter this work in some festivals.’ So, we scrounged up a little bit of money, and she went as far as she could with it paying entry fees. We just found out that we have been selected to be in the ‘Make Me Laugh’ comedy festival, which is in Poland! Who knew we would play well in Poland?”

No matter the outcome of the festival, it’s clear that I❤️Collaboration is a winner for UNCG.

You can watch all thirteen episodes of I❤️Collaboration on the School of Theatre’s YouTube channel.

Story by Terri W. Relos

Photo credit: Jannida Chase