The Shows Must Go On

Theatre Performance: Bring It On

Theatres across the country shut down this year. That has left the theatre community and patrons alike saddened. But what does it mean for the future actors, directors, and technicians who need access to complete their training? Through Redhawk Resilience and sheer determination, the students, faculty and staff at Southeast Missouri State’s River Campus have found a way to continue live productions.

It is important students continue to perform to hone their craft under the direction of seasoned professionals. We promised them we would prepare them for life after college, even in the midst of a global pandemic. And we did that.

The Earl and Margie Holland College of Arts and Media started by testing the waters with the cast of Bring It On, The Musical over the summer. The cast and crew worked under a “family unit” protocol meaning they lived and worked together from the time rehearsals began all the way through the final performance. Students also completed a daily symptom checklist each morning and had their temperatures checked when entering facilities on campus. As an additional precaution, face shields were worn during rehearsals and performances.

Once the fall semester began and students started going to class and interacting with people outside of their “family unit,” further restrictions were put in place both to protect them and to comply with the University’s Protect the Nest plan. Students transitioned to using face masks as opposed to shields. In addition to the daily symptom checks, students were required to report any symptoms to the Clinic for Health in Arts (CHART) Coordinator Kyle Schneider. He says students have been exceptional at filling out the checklist and reporting any issues to the clinic staff. If students need to quarantine or isolate, they were in constant communication with the clinic staff and were not allowed to return to production until they were asymptomatic for 72 hours without medication.

“I cannot speak enough of how collaborative and cooperative all faculty, staff, and students have been in this process. This was definitely a team effort and everyone has worked together to make this happen,” says Schneider.

Innovation also played a big role in the ability to continue performances. Costume Shop Manager Deana Luetkenhaus developed a special mask students used during performances. Luetkenhaus’ masks are clear in the front so the performer’s mouth can be seen by the audience. It is cloth on the sides and fits tight to the face to prevent vapors from escaping. There are also special masks for performers who sing during the show. These masks are designed to allow greater movement for the jaw. Musicians also wear specially crafted masks that enable them to play their instrument while also decreasing the amount of vapors emitted into the room.

Dr. Kenn Stilson, chair of The Jeanine Larson Dobbins Conservatory of Theatre and Dance at Southeast, says the way shows are performed has also changed. The actors are staged in such a way that when they’re talking, they are at least six feet apart. If they’re singing, performers are staged at least 12 feet apart. Quick costume changes have also been eliminated because they usually require a team of people.

Another big change this season is the amount of tickets being sold to performances. In order to comply with safe social distancing, only 25% of seats are being sold in performance halls. Patrons are seated at least 12 feet from the edge of the stage to ensure safety and audience members are spread out accordingly. Stilson says the small audience size has created new challenges for his students, but it has been a great learning experience for the actors.

“Under normal circumstances, if you only had 200 people in the house, you’d put them close together to help create a certain energy in the audience. You get a greater reaction that way,” he says. “But when you take those 200 people and spread them out, it minimizes their reaction. They don’t react as openly and overtly as they would if they were close to others. It’s still a good experience because you have to learn how to play to an audience, learn how to adapt your performance to your audience.”

Because not all patrons were comfortable watching a show in person, some performances have been livestreamed this year. Dean of the Holland College of Arts and Media Rhonda Weller-Stilson says not every show lends itself to being able to be livestreamed or can be because of production rights, but they’ve found it to be a welcome alternative.

“When we are able to do so, we are pleased to offer this service,” Weller-Stilson says. “It’s been great for students who have family members living far away and they can’t travel. Our patrons who are not able to attend a live performance are very appreciative of this opportunity.”

It’s safe to say the 2020-2021 performance season at the River Campus will be memorable; it’s also highlighted the resiliency and will to do
of our students.

We are doing everything in our power to keep our students safe. That’s our priority right now. At the same, it’s all about learning. It’s still happening. They’re training. It’s happening at a very effective level.
– Dr. Kenn Stilson Professor of Acting, Directing, and Musical Theatre

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