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UW-River Falls Stage and Screen Arts produces film instead of live show this semester

December 3, 2020

On the set
On the set of “Mary Frankenstein” with Ryan Huling and Meredith Bowermaster. (Photo courtesy of Marty Donnelly)

The Stage and Screen Arts department at UW-River Falls is putting together a film that is a feminist take on the story Frankenstein. The piece is titled “Mary Frankenstein,” and is an adaptation of the original novel by Mary Shelley.

Kathy Welch, a visiting assistant professor with the Stage and Screen Arts Department, is directing the film. Frankenstein is a story Welch had worked with before, outside of the university and in the form of a play. She then wrote her own adaptation back in 2017.

Welch adjusted the adaptation to best suit the circumstances. The director set up some scenes so that actors were wearing theatrical masks so they could wear another mask underneath in order to follow COVID guidelines.

This will be Welch’s first time directing a film, though she has worked on movies independently of UWRF. Hannah Robb, a fifth year student majoring in stage and screen arts and communication studies, is the cinematographer. Robb said there were many challenges throughout the process.

There are about 25 people collaborating on the project. The crew is following coronavirus guidelines laid out by both the Screen Actors Guild and the United States Institute of Theater Technology.

Everyone who is on set is working in designated zones. The people editing and handling music are working remotely, and except for the occasional meeting online the whole team is never all together in person.

“When we’re actually shooting, as part of our zoned approach, there’s a center core where the actors can be, and we limit that,” Welch said. “But if the actors need to be unmasked we limit it to two or three actors together.”

Cinematographer Hannah Robb shoots a scene
Cinematographer Hannah Robb shoots a scene on the Arctic set with Meredith Bowermaster and Ryan Huling. (Photo courtesy of Marty Donnelly)

Welch said the two week pause on campus at the beginning of the semester for shelter in place orders put off the shooting schedule. There have also been a few cases where crew members had a roommate that was sick, or they themselves felt ill and had to be pulled out of the process while getting tested and awaiting results.

“Around every corner there’s a learning curve and every single person is learning how to do their job while dealing with COVID, and while dealing with it in a film sense instead of just theatrical sense,” Robb said.

The film was funded by left over budget money from previous semesters. When the project is completed, it will be put up online with a place for people to make donations. The cost of the film was about the same as a play, though they didn’t have to pay royalties since Welch wrote the adaptation herself.

Robb said something she enjoyed was the uncertainty of each filming. The director was open to collaboration and Robb was able to incorporate some of her vision as well through the camera work. Robb said there were exciting aspects of the film as well like getting to use real organs on the movie set donated from the biology department, according to Robb.

The film doesn’t have a release date yet. Welch said the plan was to finish shooting before Thanksgiving, but things have changed and they will be shooting at least through the end of the semester.

Robb said this film for her has been a testament to artists trying to create something during difficult times. She said: “Just like Mary Frankenstein is trying to do the impossible, I feel like we are trying to do the impossible some days.”