In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the University of West Florida’s Department of Theatre has adapted to keep students and faculty safe. These changes include putting a temporary hold on theatrical performances.
“From an art and theatre standpoint, it’s been a very odd interruption for us,” Charles Houghton, chair of UWF’s Department of Theatre, said. “I think it’s put a little fear in some people about theatre and where it will be when we come back, but a lot of us are still very confident that theatre will be back. In many ways, I think it will be celebrated and cherished more.”
Since the start of the pandemic, the department has canceled four live performances. One of these performances was “Urinetown”, a musical that students worked hard in preparing for during the Spring 2020 semester.
“We had to basically put that show away and not do it,” Houghton said. “The students were really upset by this, and that guided our conversation this summer where we decided not to have any live performances this fall.”
Houghton typically works on anywhere from six to twelve live performances each year. This year, he has only worked on three.
“It is a very strange time,” Houghton said. “I have not worked on so few shows in a year ever in my career.”
Like most other classes being taught at the university, classes taught within the Department of Theatre have also had to adapt in response to COVID-19. A little less than half of all theatre-related classes are being taught virtually or semi-virtually.
Performance-oriented classes, including acting and auditioning classes, tend to meet more in-person than virtually. The only time these classes meet online is when no hands-on activities are scheduled.
“They’re a whole lot easier hands-on and in-person,” Houghton said. “It’s a challenge, but we’re working our way through it.”
Despite this, most theatre students have been handling the change in their curriculum quite well. Although some are struggling to navigate through online classes, the majority of students have been able to keep up morale.
“For the most part, I believe that students have been fairly flexible,” Marci Duncan, professor of acting, said. “I think that as long as I have tried to remain positive, encouraging and resourceful, students take on that kind of spirit.”
Since no live performances are scheduled for this semester, performance-oriented classes have been taking this time to rehearse for future shows. These in-person rehearsals have been socially distanced and with masks.
“We just announced to our students that we will be auditioning for two shows in the spring,” Houghton said. “We will do them at the end of the spring term, so this gives us more time to rehearse them.”
Extra rehearsal time not only allows the actors to rehearse more but also ensures that scene and costume shops are not over capacity with students before performances. It also allows the cast and crew to remain socially distanced.
As of right now, there have been no reported cases of COVID-19 within the Department of Theatre. Faculty and staff are prepared to act if anything changes.
“As a performance instructor, I have always been on the ready to reinvent my instruction,” Duncan said. “Your instruction is pretty much set with what you want to do and how you’re going to do it. I find that in this COVID-era that every day I am tweaking and problem-solving to figure out a different way to teach the same thing.”
The last live performance that UWF’s Department of Theatre put on was “Silent Sky” in February of this year. This spring, the department will perform “Clybourne Park” and “Big Fish.”
These shows will be limited capacity, but the department is organizing an online component so that more people can watch them. This will likely be a live stream via YouTube.
For more information about the University of West Florida’s Department of Theatre or past and upcoming shows, visit uwf.edu/cassh/departments/theatre/.