Chris Morrison ’22 solves ‘technical riddle’ for ‘Pheromone’ production

The cinema and television arts major and Elon Sports Vision president plays an integral role for the Department of Performing Arts and its new production, “Pheromone: An Awkward Olfactory Inquiry.”

Chris Morrison ’22 (left) and Assistant Professor Max Negin won’t be on screen during this week’s “Pheromone: An Awkward Olfactory Inquiry” production, but they have played a large role bringing it to audiences.

The praise Max Negin bestows on Elon junior Chris Morrison might sound like hyperbole, but the assistant professor knows it’s no exaggeration.

This week, the Department of Performing Arts’ newest production, “Pheromone: An Awkward Olfactory Inquiry,” comes to life – and computer screens – with six shows in six days, beginning Oct. 1. The completely virtual performance is the department’s first to use new technologies in collaboration with the School of Communications. And Negin enlisted Morrison to pilot the technology for the unprecedented production.

A behind-the-scenes look at the makeshift control room for “Pheromone” in the McEwen Communications Building.

“Basically, Chris is doing a two-hour live production of a play with 10 different actors all by himself, and he’s responsible for audio, sound effects and background images. Plus, he’s doing it on a remote computer with software he’s learned over the past week and a half,” Negin said. “It’s easy to say that what he is doing is no small feat.”

Director Kevin Hoffmann echoed those sentiments about Morrison and went a bit further, noting that the show “truly could not happen without him.”

This is high praise for the cinema and televisions arts major and Elon Sports Vision president whose fall calendar became bare with the cancellation of Elon University athletics. But Morrison said he feels fortunate that when one production door closed another one opened.

“This opportunity fell into my lap, and I’m really grateful for it because there was a void in my fall semester,” the Chicago native said. “Football season is my favorite part of the semester, and I really enjoy broadcasting those events. They are very long, but very rewarding days. Not having that … it sorta hurt. But having this play, this live event, has helped fill that void.”

‘What Elon is about’

Like most Elon programming over the past seven months, the COVID-19 pandemic has altered or outright canceled planned events. This summer, as the Department of Performing Arts contemplated its fall semester, faculty members contacted Negin to see how the School of Communications could potentially help support virtual performances.

With insights from one of his television industry contacts, Negin learned about vMix, a live production, streaming and mixing program that could pull off the theatrical performances while being social distanced. Negin then began the process of learning vMix himself, securing the software – and a computer strong enough to run it – identifying a student to lead the production, and working out the inevitable hurdles.

The easy part was finding the right student, Negin said.

“Chris was on the short list of people who could not only handle the technical side of it, but also has the right attitude, and is intrigued by the technical riddle of it,” he said. “What Chris has is a unique combination in that he knows the technical side, but also has an artistic eye.”

It also helped that Morrison has some familiarity with vMix after working on the broadcast of a collegiate esports tournament last spring.

Morrison jumped headfirst into his role as video operator, learning the ins and outs of vMix last weekend and spending two 11-hour days at the controls. The Elon junior and the “Pheromone” cast and crew went line by line to make sure each shot and each visual fit. Rehearsals have continued in the weekdays since, and Morrison has worked closely with Hoffmann and state manager Allison Vogel ’23.

“It is an unprecedented process here at Elon and there have been some growing pains,” Morrison said. “It has been a lot of hours, but I’ve really enjoyed it. I’ve loved the process of learning vMix and getting to help the theater department. They needed help to put on a show, and it has been enjoyable for me to step up and help them as best as I can.”

For Negin, he was also attracted to the challenge of the virtual production and the opportunity to incorporate new technology in the School of Communications. The latter, he feels is what makes the school stand apart.

“For me, this is what it is all about. I was working in the field and I ran across someone in the industry working on project like this. We had a conversation about it, and I brought what I found out back to campus to learn it for myself, teach it to students, and it mushrooms into the academic setting,” he said. “That is what Elon is about – especially in a professional school like ours.”

Negin sees great potential in the vMix software, where it could be applied in classroom settings, Elon News Network, Elon Sports Vision and other productions involving remote locations.

Likewise, Hoffmann sees potential in the collaboration between his department and the School of Communications, calling the past two weeks “a non-stop learning experience.”

“This project has been consistently challenging at every turn and there’s no way we would have been able to accomplish this without the expertise of Chris and Max,” he added.

Break a leg

There are certainly parallels between this week’s “Pheromone” performances and broadcasting Elon athletic events, Morrison points out. And he should know, he’s been heavily involved in Elon Sports Vision – and he has theater experience. In high school, he said he was “super involved” as a backstage crew member.

“It has been fun to get back involved in theater because I missed it,” he said.

Morrison has received high praise for his professionalism from the director, cast and crew of “Pheromone.”

Despite not knowing the “Pheromone” cast and crew beforehand, Morrison has made himself indispensable already, Hoffmann said.

“He’s been incredible to work with, so willing to roll up his sleeves and get the job done while keeping cool under pressure,” the director said. “A consummate professional throughout.”

Added Bill Webb, the play’s production manager: “We are attempting a very different type of production with ‘Pheromone,’ relying heavily on Chris’s skills and input. In his responsibilities, dedication and collegiality, Chris has been nothing short of spectacular.”

Morrison’s responsibilities will begin about two hours before the virtual curtain rises for each “Pheromone” performance. He will set up shop in the makeshift control room he and Negin have set up outside the professor’s McEwen office.

He will then prep the cameras and microphones, running audio tests and making his final tweaks. It will closely resemble his pre-game routine before an Elon football game, but in place of snaps, there will be scenes.

“It is certainly different than live sports,” Morrison said. “Live sports broadcasts are really seat-of-your-pants, anything can happen, and you have to be ready to tell the story of the game. In theater, it is still live, and there is still pressure, but it is scripted. Everything is following this general story. With no sports this fall, I’ve been so glad to have this to focus on – and to learn something new along the way.”

‘Pheromone: An Awkward Olfactory Inquiry’

By Rachel Graf Evans
Directed by Kevin Hoffmann

October 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6 at 7:30 pm.
October 4 at 2 pm.

Somewhere in a dilapidated warehouse in Atlanta, a new kind of party is just getting started. Wear a t-shirt for three days, put it in a Ziploc bag, bring it to the party, fall in love. What matters more in a successful relationship: biology or commitment? An awkward olfactory inquiry into the nature of attraction, betrayal, and the quirky characters we meet in our quest to find true love. *Contains adult language and content. Not suitable for children.

Reservations and viewing link available at

Pheromone is the inaugural winner of the Elon University Acting Program’s New Play Award in cooperation and partnership with the Hollins University MFA Playwriting Program.