Theater and Dance finds ‘silver lining’ in pandemic age of performing arts

In this file photo, acting students Malik James and Emily Absher listen to Director and Theater and Dance professor Michael Costello, Thursday,  Oct. 11, 2018, after a rehearsal for

In this file photo, acting students Malik James and Emily Absher listen to Director and Theater and Dance professor Michael Costello, Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018, after a rehearsal for "The Crucible" at Texas State. Photo credit: Ali Mumbach

Cristela Jones

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect college classrooms and universities worldwide, Texas State’s Department of Theater and Dance is finding creative ways to explore instruction both on and off stage while maintaining the safety of students and faculty.

Due to the ongoing pandemic, the department will not hold any live productions this fall. It does, however, plan to stream monologues, feature plays and original online productions created by students and faculty on Zoom.

Sarah Maines, interim theater and department chair, says although there will be no live productions, she is excited for the opportunity to explore a new avenue of theater.

“We’re still trying to get the streaming rights for some of the productions that we’re planning to do, so we won’t be announcing material just yet,” Maines said. “However, a lot of what we’re offering is devised work, so work that is created by our students and faculty together.”

Although Maines is aware of the challenges that may come with this new way of production, she remains hopeful the department will continue to find positives amid COVID-19.

“Change is hard, but with as busy as we often are with our standard department productions, this just isn’t something we often have the opportunity to really explore,” Maines said. “I think that we are forced into a really exciting opportunity, and I do like to look for silver linings.”

Maines says half the department will offer online classes this fall to accommodate the safety needs of students and faculty. She hopes offering a variety of learning experiences will make the adjustment to a new way of performance as simple as possible for staff and students.

“We do have dance classes, singing classes and acting classes that require a lot of vocal projection and movement,” Maines said. “We felt like if we’re on video, students would be in the privacy of their own home or safe space, and they wouldn’t have to wear a mask which would possibly make things a little bit easier.”

For students such as Alexis Gutierrez, a theater performance and production sophomore, there is optimism about returning back to in-person classes. She says she is confident the department will commit to keeping students and faculty safe by offering socially distanced learning opportunities.

“I’m excited for it because I know that the department will be very safe,” Gutierrez said. “I know they’re going to be taking temperatures and making us wear masks; I’m excited for the way that the department has been making this the best that they can through the circumstances.”

Classes like professor Natalie Blackman’s upper-division Shakespeare and acting courses will be delivered remotely to accommodate students who require their own space for vocal projection and expression.

“Many performance classes in our department did decide that so much of what we teach is about being able to respond to your impulses and to breathe deeply and speak your truth loudly,” Blackman said. “There’s so much freedom available to us in a remote format, and so for some of my upper-division acting courses, [moving them online] seemed like the best way to really honor the fundamentals of what we’re working on, where you have the freedom to act on impulse, move on impulse and speak on impulse.”

After moving the curriculum online in the spring, Blackman and her students analyzed the strengths of remote learning and came up with a new course idea specifically designed for online learning called Auditions: The Business of Acting.

“One of the things that we figured out was that all actors have to know how to put themselves on video and submit auditions digitally; that’s a skill everyone needs,” Blackman said. “We ended up proposing a whole new online-only course just about auditions because of how surprisingly effective it was to be online.”

Despite COVID-19’s tremendous impact on the performing arts, Blackman’s thoughts about the theater’s responsibility to the public remain the same.

“Theater is about really acknowledging the moment that we’re in,” Blackman said. “It’s the theater’s job to reflect on where we are and to deal honestly with this moment in all its challenges and hardships as well as its surprising new-found triumphs and opportunities.”

To stay up to date on upcoming theater and dance productions visit the Department of Theater and Dance website.


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