Like any performing arts institution within the past year, the UWEC Theatre Arts program has had to adapt its season to the restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, none of its four mainstage productions will see live, in-person audiences, but the program is still producing meaningful art for its students and its patrons alike.
To replace the fall musical, the faculty planned Out of My Dreams: A Revue! - a collection of Golden Age songs performed one-by-one in front of a green screen and edited together, with the ability to stream it safely at home. For students, performing for the camera and a green screen and singing in a professional recording studio are valuable experiences that they may not have otherwise had in a “regular” season. Arthur Grothe, the Artistic Director of Theatre at UW-Eau Claire, says, “we eventually settled on doing things that were in the public domain because it gave us the most flexibility. That way, we didn’t have to worry about our rights contract and we could still produce productions in different ways.”
With that in mind, the next project they decided to pursue is Disruptions: Illusions/Reality, a collection of Shakespeare scenes filmed individually over Zoom and in-person following stringent social distancing guidelines. Stage manager Lauren Edson says of the process, “A lot of rehearsals are spent in breakout rooms, allowing the actors to really dive deep into their text and the specific needs for the group. In other rehearsals, we've been able to play with the Zoom space as a group. These exercises became a big part of our early process and are even seen in the final scene of the film!”
The third project, to be kicked off in the spring semester, will be a site-specific interactive podcast based on 8-10 locations in Eau Claire, interspersed with atmospheric music and scenes written by students that are specific to the location. Students can participate by writing the piece, acting out scenes or voice-overs, and doing “backstage” work.
In the late spring, the program is planning to stage a full, live-streamed stage production of The Threepenny Opera by Bertolt Brecht. Grothe says that this production in its current form will rely on strict social distancing measures and the use of masks.
The program is still committed to creating a valuable learning experience for theatre students looking to work in the field after graduation. “Learning perseverance to continue to create art at a time when the options seem limited is hugely impactful in the grit that it takes to build a career in theatre,” Grothe says. “If we can instill in people that, even in a time when we couldn’t have an audience, when we couldn’t really be in the same room, when we have all of these obstacles to overcome--we can still create art. Then going out to auditions and not getting cast every once in a while seems like a lot less of a hassle.”
Edson says, “I still think students are getting a lot of great preparation for entering the career field. These film projects are allowing our students to be exposed to the world of film which is not something we often discuss here… It's giving students some understanding of the process of film and the lingo used.”
All productions will be available for the public to stream on various online platforms at a range of ticket prices to accommodate budgets during the pandemic.