Friday, January 15, 2021

Theatre Department pivots to virtual shows

By Alana Penny

The SUNY Plattsburgh Theatre department is adapting to coronavirus restrictions this semester by holding all auditions, rehearsals and shows, virtually. 

Although the adjustment to virtual theater brings up some inconveniences, it also opens doors that would not usually be possible. They have been communicating with the SUNY Potsdam theatre department about collaborating on a show. 

“When you’re working on a virtual platform there’s opportunity for cross collaboration,” Kelty said. “It’s kind of a wild time, who knows what we could do.”

Auditions, rehearsals and shows being done virtually has also allowed students who live in the U.S. and internationally, who weren’t able to physically return to campus, still be a part of productions. 

Distance not being an obstacle has also made it possible to host far away guests. The department started off the season by hosting a workshop over zoom with Broadway actress Ashley Blanchet. They also plan to host Michael J. Bobbitt from the New Repertory Theatre located in Watertown, Massachusetts. 

On the weekend of Oct. 16, they will be celebrating the Hartman Theatre’s 50th anniversary. They will share memories of past shows, and current students will perform a staged reading, a way of performing a play in which actors read directly from the script without worrying about the scenery, costumes, rehearsals and memorizing lines.  That same weekend they will have a “where are they now” alumni panel and social. 

Auditions were held yesterday for the next play, “Hands Up,” a series of monologues about the Black experience with law enforcement and a part of the New Black Play festival, a movement that celebrates and showcases Black actors. Auditions were held in a zoom call in which students waited in the waiting area until it was their turn and then were able to perform their prepared monologue in front of the organizers They also had the option to turn in a recording of themselves. 

Before students were sent home last spring, the theatre department planned on performing the “Importance of Being Earnest.” They will be doing it this semester instead through zoom or another streaming platform. They are looking at releasing it in chunks over a few weeks. 

They weren’t able to record their performances in the past because of the guidelines given to them when they purchased the rights to the plays. However, COVID-19 has caused them to loosen some of these restrictions. 

“It’s a new experience,” Guay said. “Depending on the show, we can record it and put it online and then people can watch it forever. We almost never record but some of the new rights holders are very open to people recording and being able to post it forever and ever.”

Guay says she has watched theater performances on zoom all summer, and describes it as a combination between seeing a play in a theatre and watching a movie. 

“It’s a whole new art form,” she said. “It’s very exciting. It’s all brand new, and it’s different depending on where you’re watching from.”  

As of right now, the department doesn’t plan on charging students for tickets to these shows. 

“As college students, money is always tight,”Associate Professor of theatre Shawna Mefferd Kelty said. “But in this economic crisis, to be able to offer some theater, thought provoking theater, for our students with little or no charge is optimal.”

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