Western Michigan University’s Theatre Department will present several works this spring after a long school year adhering to COVID-19 restrictions and safety precautions. The department has prepared plays to be performed both virtually and in-person.
“We have coming up in April a three part series where we are doing the beginnings of nine different plays,” said Joan Herrington, the Chair of the Department of Theatre. “We made a choice to do pieces of plays so that we could have a maximum number of students working in production in small, safe groups as opposed to one huge show.”
The first two parts of this series will take place in-person in the Williams Theatre and Shaw Theatre, these shows will be held at limited capacity and reserved for family and friends of the performers. The third part will be shared virtually.
Additionally, two productions will open outdoors in the Miller Plaza. The Musical Spelling Bee and A Midsummer Night’s Dream will alternate from the end of May through the beginning of June.
“We are excited because when we produced last fall it was clear that people really missed live theater, but we also have an obligation to ensure that the community is safe,” Herrington said.
“In Miller Plaza we chalk out big pods so that you and your bubble or small group can be safely outside and a safe distance from other people,” Herrington said.
Herrington said the shows are the result of diligence from faculty and students in the department. She said students have done a terrific job at committing to safety protocols.
By adhering to guidelines, the theatre department has continued to practice their art during this school year.
“We are really excited because we have been face to face the entire year for about 85% of our classes,” Herrington said. “We have been really committed to allowing our students to remain in community and practice their craft.”
Typical theatre practices like projecting one’s voice, exchanging props, storing costumes, putting on wigs and placing microphones have had to be adjusted due to COVID-19. Physical distance has even affected what plays can be put on. Plays that required actors to physically touch could not be put on.
“We are doing a play which had a very funny scene of three family members sitting on a couch that’s too small,” Herrington said. “We had to write to the playwright and say could we cut these lines because it's not safe to have these three actors all squished together on this couch right now.”
Similarly, without the usual ticket sales and grants the department has adapted to a lower budget, about 20% the amount of a normal year. More financial support is coming from fundraising and community member donations.
“We have a community support organization called the Theatre Guild and they’ve been raising some money, that’s largely going to student scholarships,” Herrington said.
She added donations have helped many students who rely on the theatre work-study program. Originally, students were paid through ticket sales.
“This year I got six very generous donors to help sponsor those student assistantships,” Herrington said. “We have some really great community members who have stepped up with donations specifically ear-marked for places where we have need.”
Despite many challenges, the theatre department has maintained a high standard during the pandemic, allowing students to continue to share their work, Herrington explained.
“We are proud of the fact that we are producing a lot more theatre than most anywhere else in the country, though I am optimistic that things will be opening up this summer for theatres across the United States,” Herrington said.
Performances will be available to the public and groups will be seated sufficient distance apart. Tickets will be available at https://wmich.edu/theatre.