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  • Sincerely, Southern

Georgia Southern theatre in COVID

By Semaj Williams

Photo courtesy of GS Theatre

The Georgia Southern University theatre program is still moving forward despite the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. The theatre program has two shows scheduled for the spring semester which can be attended through live stream.

The theatre program had to make several changes to maintain CDC guidelines of social distancing. Students in the theatre program are being taught in new ways on video work and training in film through zoom. Professors use zoom to have professional actors attend these classes and listen in on readings and provide students with their feedback.

Georgia Southern’s Director of Theatre, Kelly Berry, believes that it is important for the program to be adaptable during the pandemic.

“We wanted to model a behavior of being adaptable to a difficult situation. We needed to be proactive to show our students that you have to be able to adapt to change,” said Berry.

Though the theatre program is continuing to put on shows, it did cancel its last show of the spring semester because the playwright did not allow the play to be live streamed.

Georgia Southern theatre student Christopher Green expressed his feelings about the show’s cancellation.

“It’s very frustrating, I know there’s not much that the school can do about that. It’s just unfortunate because that’s just one less opportunity that I have to showcase my hard work and talent,” said Green.

The theatre program has made adjustments to ensure the safety of the students and staff. The program’s first show in the fall semester Social Creatures was rehearsed entirely on zoom and only certain scenes were filmed on set. The actors in the show were provided green screens, lights, cameras and filmed in their own homes.

There have been instances where the actors have been face-to-face and on these occasions the program removed all the seats out of the black box theatre so that is a large empty space. This allowed the actors to be able to rehearse while wearing a mask and still be able to social distance.

When rehearsing face-to-face indoors, the theatre program makes sure that there is as much air circulation as possible by having the stage doors open and the fans blowing simultaneously.

For the production of their show Touch to ensure the safety of their students the theatre program decided to film their dance sequences with their actors being masked. The program also ensures that the only actors that were allowed to physically touch were already roommates.

When not on scene the program set up 15 green screen pods, one for each actor, to be able to take off their mask and rehearse their upcoming lines. Elizabeth McCooey is still getting used to the program’s new adjustments.

“It takes some getting used to, we spend a lot of time together so it’s weird not really being able to talk to the others about the show or rehearse our lines together off stage,” said McCooey.

During the spring semester, students have been given the option of whether or not they want to attend classes in person or via zoom. In-person classes still adhere to the social distancing protocols, and mandate that close scenes between actors must be 3 minutes or less.

When reciting monologues actors have the option to do it through zoom or in-person and stand 16 feet away from the instructor. Actors are required to wear a mask when reciting with another actor in the scene.

Georgia Southern University theatre professor Lisa Abbott gave her stance on the new adjustments made by the theatre program.

“It is a challenge, we have to forgo some of the essentials of acting and directing work that are based on movement and physical connection. A major focus has been on making sure the actors know that they can say yes or no based on their comfort level. It is better to work with limitations and get through this than to ignore the safety and well-being of our students and faculty. We are discovering how well we can adapt,” said Abbott.

The pandemic has had an impact on the program’s ticket sales and show attendance. The program is required to earn back a portion of its budget, however, because of the pandemic, the program made the decision not to sell tickets. There has been a decrease in attendance as well as it has been found that since the shows are through zoom that many audience members are not staying through the full show.

Professor Abbot is still in high spirits despite the many changes made by the program.

“We have amazing students, many of whom are facing real concerns about how the pandemic permanently impacts their career choice. We miss live audiences and we miss the power of live performances but, we have also made amazing discoveries. Our program creates a family and the members of this family are tight. They are supportive, nurturing, engaged, and energized. They are willing to take creative risks and reinvent ways to tell stories. They bring energy into my life every day,” said Abbott.

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