After a year and a half of empty theaters, the Maryville College Theatre Department plans to put on their first production with a live audience since the beginning of the pandemic on October 28-31.
The COVID-19 pandemic has strongly affected theatre departments all over the world. When the pandemic first hit in the spring of 2020, many theaters had to halt all productions. Even into the fall and spring semesters of the following year, live audiences were prohibited. Dr. Heather McMahon, faculty chair and professor of theatre explained that just as many other theatre departments, Maryville College Theatre Department had to make some changes in order to continue performing.
“Last year we pivoted to online shows, and also recordings,” McMahon said.
McMahon continued, “The whole nature of theatre is live. It’s meant to be performed live.”
In fact, when asked what has been the biggest loss in theatre due to COVID, she says it is the live audiences. Although theaters managed to perform shows virtually, it is not the same as a live audience.
“There is a special feedback loop that happens between a live audience and a live actor that you don’t get any other way,” McMahon said.
Maryville College sophomore and member of the cast of the upcoming show Jenni Cate Rhodes expanded on this from an actress’s perspective: “It is amazing to be able to feed off the energy of the audience. The more the audience laughs or is invested, the more the people on stage get invested.”
According to Assistant Technical Director of The Clayton Center of the Arts, Kevin Grigsby, virtual shows also result in a lack of hands-on experience in students. He says that there are more freshmen and sophomores in the theatre department than experienced juniors and seniors.
“We are at a point now where half our program basically has never really done a show. At least not a show here,” Grigsby said.
He explained that one of the most interesting parts about Maryville College Theatre is that most of the work is done by the students, and without many experienced students, it makes getting back into business harder.
“Our department is so short-staffed on a normal day, in a normal time,” Grigsby said.
Grigsby continued to explain that most departments have three or four professionals on staff to help out, while Maryville College only has him, and it has always been that way. Because of this, he heavily relies on the experience of his upperclassmen. He compared getting a show ready to being a chicken running around with its head cut off while attempting to get everything done with such little staff, even with the experienced upperclassmen of a year without COVID.
Of course, with the revival of live theatrical performances in an ongoing pandemic, precautions must be put in place. McMahon and Grigsby both explained that all cast members in the production are vaccinated, as it was a requirement to audition. Rhodes stated that the cast wears masks during rehearsals with an exception of full run-throughs of the show. Grigsby also shared that anyone helping on the tech side of things or backstage on the nights of the shows will also be vaccinated.
In regards to the audience precautions, McMahon stated that she is not aware of exactly what they will look like because the pandemic is still very much in flux. She does however suspect reduced capacity to allow for distancing and possibly masks.
“Every theatre department is just trying to figure out what to do right now,” McMahon said. Flexibility is a must when it comes to making this show happen.
“Everyone is scared that everything is going to get stopped, that something is going to happen and we’re going to get shut down,” Grigsby said.
Nevertheless, the Maryville College Theatre Department is hard at work to bring live audiences back to Maryville College’s campus.
The play in production, “Five Women Wearing the Same Dress” is a comedic play about five bridesmaids avoiding the reception of a wedding for a bride whom none of them seem to like. The show is set to be performed October 28-31.