June 30, 2020, Santa Rosa, CA – Santa Rosa Junior College’s (SRJC) Theatre Arts Department will adapt their fall 2020 productions to an online format providing students with classic foundational training on the leading-edge of theatrical performance during the COVID-19 pandemic.
SRJC Theatre Arts faculty and staff say that COVID-19 presents new challenges to an art form based on live performances. During live theatrical performances capacity restrictions can provide an audience space for safe social distancing, but theatre technicians’ and live performers’ jobs demand proximity. Wearing face masks on or backstage hinder clear communication, a necessity for storytelling.
SRJC Theatre Arts finished the spring 2020 semester with two performances on Zoom. Laura Downing-Lee’s advanced acting class presented live scenes and monologues of different styles to an audience of more than 200 participants. Director John Shillington’s cast and crew performed an abbreviated version of The Wedding Singer with pre-recorded pieces for the cast, crew and an invited audience. Both performances were successful in terms of audience appreciation and the students’ live performing experience.
“The shows were very informative and we learned a lot flying by the seat of our pants. The students adapted really well with no time, which reinforced the feeling that we were actually doing live theatre. Things went wrong. That’s what makes live theatre what it is. The audience knows they’re part of the process, that they are experiencing it with the performers,” said Theatre Arts Department Chair/Artistic Director Leslie McCauley. “It’s not a clean, sterile, pre-edited thing.”
The spring shows helped SRJC’s Theatre Arts Department realize the limitations of the form and ways to adapt. Scenic Designer/Instructor Peter Crompton is designing virtual backgrounds without distracting effects and the staff has been training in Zoom and video production. They have also trained with Bay Area Theatre Sports, an improvisational theatre company currently operating on Zoom, to understand how they manage live performances.
Fall 2020’s first production, Murder on the Orient Express, will be broadcast as a live Zoom webinar and staged as a 1934 radio play. Costumed actors will play radio actors from the period. They will be visible throughout the production bringing their characters and the play’s action to life through their voices and physicality. The actors will have cohesive backgrounds, lighting, and sound, which will be professionally designed and built by students to enhance their performances from home. It will run Oct. 16 – 24.
SRJC Theatre Arts’ second virtual production is inspired by Frank Capra’s 1946 film, It’s a Wonderful Life. The original musical, composed by Pianist/Conductor Janis Dunson Wilson and adapted for the stage by Director/Instructor John Shillington, has been shortened from its two-act format and rewritten to be performed on Zoom.
“Music and Dance are tricky to do ‘live’ with the inherent delay. So we are looking at what I am calling a ‘Hybrid’ of Zoom and video,” said Shillington. “We love the idea of performing live but we have learned by fire, and by virus, it is imperative to have a Plan B to keep the quality and spirits high.”
It’s a Wonderful Life features a score by award-winning local artist Janis Dunson Wilson. It will run Nov. 27 – Dec. 5.
The spring 2021 play is She Kills Monsters by Qui Nguyen. It will be directed by Leslie McCauley and will run live, in the Burbank Studio Theatre, March 12-21. The musical, The Wedding Singer, directed by Reed Martin, will run April 23 – May 9, live in Burbank Auditorium.
“SRJC Theatre Arts will continue to provide remote education to students through fall 2020, creating as many learning and program completion opportunities as possible given the situation we are in. We’re not stopping. We’re still training the next generation of artists,” said McCauley. “We unapologetically ask that the community once again steps up, continues to support our program and be there for us as they have in the past. We need community more than ever.
Ticket information is coming soon. The Burbank Auditorium Box Office is closed in summer 2020.