Live theater takes on a new look


Emily Morris

The theater will be operating differently this year. Live performances are not scheduled in Varner Hall yet.

Oakland University’s theater program is considering new methods to connect with their audiences and maintain social distancing. 

Theater inherently involves interaction and reaction from the actors and the audience, according to Anthony Guest, chair of the theater department. Currently, there is not one definitive solution to foster live theater, but the department is considering performances that are  pre-filmed, radio, outdoor and indoor small gatherings with its attendees wearing masks. 

“It’s been difficult, and students will have to shift… an important part of the creative process is verification, and when you have a [live] audience there is that strong relationship.” 

Hannah Johnson, a senior in the theater program, is beginning the semester with a pre-recorded performance, “Major Barbara,” which was postponed from the spring. Initially, Zoom was a contending platform to maintain a live audience connection, but it was ruled out, due to unpredictable WiFi issues and delays that happened during rehearsals. 

“It makes it pretty much impossible to have a live audience for a full show,” Johnson said. “So, everything will probably be recorded, which also makes it really different for us as performers because we’re used to having audiences and reactions.” 

Any pre-recorded performances will be created in partnership with the film studies and production department. Each actor will have the chance to individually record their parts and scenes will be melded together with a combination of editing and graphics, according to Johnson. 

“If they don’t have much film experience or TV experience… this kind of forces them into that world,” Guest said. 

Admission to pre-recorded performances has not been decided yet, but Guest affirmed that determining a paywall will be “our next step.” 

“Failure: A Love Story” will be the first production to take a radio approach this year. Pre-recording for that show will begin in October, and it will be released to an audience following editing. There will be an admission fee for this format, as well. 

Although virtual productions are at OU’s forefront right now, Emily Fishman, a senior in the theater department, is looking elsewhere for small live audiences. Thus far, she hasn’t committed to any of OU’s productions, but she’ll be traveling across Michigan and to Kansas to perform live with small audiences. 

“It just felt like we hit a wall,” Fishman said. “Broadway closed, and everything closed. All of my shows got pushed back or canceled. It just felt really defeating… but there are theaters that are doing smaller shows.” 

Next semester OU could offer similar options again too. Guest admitted that it’s possible with “a glimpse of good weather” in the summer, students may be permitted to perform outdoors with live audiences again. 

The theater department also mulled over having small indoor performances eventually, but masks would have to be involved, as of now. If actors or their audience members have to cover their expressions in live theater, it would interrupt what Guest refers to as the “theater triangle” — the relationship with “the actor, their partner and the audience.”

“It’s a three pronged relationship, and your hope as an actor is [that] when you’re performing there’s a balanced relationship — that you’re aware that the audience is there.” 

The theater department will continue to evolve throughout the school year, abiding by current safety measures. Although OU actors are forced to be creative and flexible — as always — the show must go on.

“People will definitely still want to see [the performances],” Fishman said. “The only issue is finding a place to perform.”