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Student Blog: Playing Outside

Stage Managing In the Time of COVID

Student Blog: Playing Outside

Singing out of windows. Zoom readings. Shows streamed from an empty stage, all actors adequately distanced. Over the past year, the theatre community has struggled to adapt to the new world order, coming to terms with the fact that, in order to put on a show, we need to involve as few people and as little interpersonal contact as possible. How can an industry so steeped in human connection survive through one of the most isolated periods in recent history? At this point, we've all felt the Zoom wall go up-the accidentally overlapping voices, the internet cutting out at inopportune moments, microphones and headphones and laptops and cameras malfunctioning-and the distress that follows. We can't go on like this.

I am just as eager to return to how it once was (at least, in terms of theatre) as the next person. I never thought I would miss the bottom halves of my friends' faces as much as I have this past year. And yet, there isn't a button we can push or a switch we can flip to send it all back. This is where we're at now; this is our lives.

At Allegheny College, we're lucky enough to have beautiful outdoor spaces aplenty-something that came in very handy when trying to plan a performance during plague times. In the fall, there was Go Play Outside, a series of short plays with limited casts, masked-up actors, and minimal sets. It made use of the theatre's courtyard, expanding The Playshop Theatre's horizons as we adapted to a new venue. Now, in the spring, I'm stage managing another outdoor show.

So, what's the difference? When I first accepted the job, I naively thought it would be the same as every other show I had done before. I was almost immediately proven wrong. There's no lighting, for starters; our stage lights are the sun, and if they decide not to come out during a performance, we adapt and carry on. Consequentially, I have almost no cues to call during the actual show-my work has been very rehearsal-heavy and will be very light during performances. It's a one-act show, with no scenic or costume changes. Once everyone's out there, they're out there-no place to hide. There's no masking or hidden area backstage; you have to be on your toes, game face on, for the full show.

In rehearsals, I tell my assistant stage manager, a freshman who has never known a campus other than the socially distanced, ghostly quiet one we have now, that normally rehearsals would be longer. Normally, we would have a set to move in. Normally, the ground plan would be more extensive. Normally, cue-to-cue would take all day, rather than two hours. I wish he could have seen the place that I once knew; that I once loved.

Playing outside isn't terrible-there's the early spring, the blooming cherry trees on the quad, the breeze on your face. But, every time I tell my assistant "it wasn't always like this," I feel like a relic of a bygone era, one of spotlights and microphones and dressing rooms. I feel like an elder telling the young of how rich and bountiful the world once was. And even though I'm thrilled to even get to stage manage again, I feel a pang of longing that I hope, someday, will go away.


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From This Author Student Blogger: Sydney Emerson