With the new guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19, many plays, musical performances and productions have been put on hold. However, this term, the theatre department devised a way for students to come together in-person and perform a series of radio dramas.
The production consists of three separate plays that were originally produced in the 1940s and 1950s. Each of the plays being performed is in the science fiction genre: “Nightfall” by Isaac Asimov, an adaptation of a Ray Bradbury piece entitled “The Velt” and “Rocket From Manhattan” by Arch Oboler. The scripts for the Lawrence performances were constructed from these original broadcasts. Live performance will be held in Cloak Theatre at the Music-Drama Center Oct. 22-24 for a very limited audience. However, audio recordings will be released on the Lawrence University Theatre Department webpage a few weeks following the performances.
Professor of Theatre Arts and the J. Thomas and Julie Esch Hurvis Professor of Theatre and Drama Timothy Troy is directing these radio dramas. According to Troy, about 20 students are involved in the production in a variety of capacities, including actors, sound production and set design.
According to Troy, the plays were chosen based on their relevance to today’s world. Although they were not broadcast during a global pandemic, they aired during a very turbulent time in history: the Cold War. Today’s uncertainty reminded Troy of his own anxieties during the Cold War. One of the reasons he chose these plays was that they spoke of worldwide anxiety and uncertainty. Additionally, the plays have similar themes to today’s world, such as listening to science, Troy says.
“I was thinking about the pandemic … and Black Lives Matter and how we treat each other as a culture and trying to find a voice from that period that helped us reflect on our own,” Troy said.
Additionally, Troy said the cast took precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 both during rehearsals and during performances. Those involved in the dramas and those in the audience were required to wear a mask at all times and practice social distancing. Also, a 10-minute break between plays was implemented to give the room time to air out.
Junior Riley Sieb is one of the lead actors in the radio dramas. Sieb said that the coolest part of this experience for her was that it was still happening in the context of the pandemic. She explained that last spring, the theatre department put on a virtual production through Zoom, so it was exciting that they were able to involve both actors and those who work behind the scenes this term.
In order to make this production as safe as possible, Sieb highlighted the specific rehearsal guidelines put in place in response to COVID-19: rehearsal spaces are alternated to allow rooms to air out, masks and social distancing are required and sheets are put over microphones.
“Theatre is something that is thought of [as] being dependent on that in-person aspect, so the fact that we’re able to adapt to everything and still have costumes, acting, sound and lighting is exciting to me,” Sieb stated.
Because the department is back in person, a return to more traditional crew roles is required. Senior Oscar Brautigam is working as the set designer for the radio dramas as part of his Senior Experience. He is a studio art and theatre major. Brautigan said that he has been working on the sets since the end of the summer. For him, this experience required reading the scripts, listening to the audio and doing research to create a set design for each of the radio dramas. All three of the plays are being performed with a large backdrop of the moon with additional set pieces for each individual play. Brautigam felt that it was a “fun challenge to be on the other end of things” creating the set design.
Even though there are some in-person aspects, COVID-19 forced the department to adapt in order to reach a wider audience. Freshman Nathan Vescio is working on the recording and sound for the radio dramas, which will eventually be released online. He said that he has really enjoyed getting to work with the cast and crew. As a student who is not in the theatre program, Vescio said that he was grateful to Troy for allowing him to be involved.
“I’m glad the department has enabled us to put on a show that is able to be performed without encumbering us too much with the restrictions,” Vescio said.