Where some might have seen insurmountable obstacles, the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh theatre department saw opportunities.
It was clear well before the start of the fall semester the coronavirus pandemic was going to disrupt daily life on campus. So department leaders got to thinking—and later got to work—on how to safely stage theatrical productions under these circumstances.
The result of that planning will be in the spotlight soon, as the UW Oshkosh theatre department will present its 2020-21 season, titled Love, Guilt and Other Family Values, in a virtual-only format beginning in late November. It consists of two plays, both of which will be available to stream online Nov. 28-Dec. 6. A single ticket purchase grants access to both performances, which will be filmed without a live audience on campus in the coming weeks.
Both shows will be produced for online audiences in what’s become a new and exciting collaboration with the UWO radio TV film (RTF) department.
“It’s way different from what normally happens,” said theatre professor and department chair Merlaine Angwall. “Completely different. We’re in uncharted territory here.”
Two shows, one price
The first production is the play Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, written by Christopher Durang and directed by Angwall. The second is The Glass Menagerie, written by Tennessee Williams and directed by Richard Kalinoski.
Tickets for access to the YouTube streams are $8.50 for the general public and $2 for students, faculty, staff and alumni. One ticket grants access to both productions.
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is a comedy about three middle-age siblings—two who’ve never left their childhood Pennsylvania home and a third, a successful world-traveling actress. The actress returns home and upheaval ensues.
The Glass Menagerie is an autobiographical Williams classic about a frustrated writer, his nagging and often lost-in-memory mother, and shy sister. It launched the concept of a “memory play.”
Theatre students are hard at work on preparing for the filming of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, planned for Sunday at the Theatre Arts Center. The filming of the second play will take place in mid-November.
“We’re all practicing COVID protocols and using those guidelines. We’re rehearsing in masks. For performances we’re wearing these face shields,” Angwall said. “It’s weird but it just kind of becomes another convention and I think after you see the first minute of it you forget it’s there.
“We’re very careful and I chuckled when I saw the sports teams staying in their own bubble because we’re kind of doing that too.”
The plans on how students could execute a theatre season were put together using guidelines from various groups, including the Association for Theatre in Higher Education, the U.S. Institute for Theatre Technology and the Actors’ Equity Association.
Bringing in backup
“It really is mutually beneficial,” said Justine Stokes, who, as director of television services, is managing the RTF involvement. “Typically we’d be spending our fall live broadcasting sports. That’s a big part of what we do at Titan TV.”
With no football, volleyball or other athletic action to film, the opportunity to work with the theatre department on two projects works out for all involved. There are about 16 students from two of Stokes’ classes, either Studio Production or Television Practicum, with roles in the filming, editing and other work to bring the plays to a YouTube audience.
The students have been enthusiastic about taking on the challenge, and have been using the recently released Hamilton performance on Disney+ as inspiration.
Stokes said the two departments getting together in this way is a fine example of how the University has responded to the pandemic—not just with keeping its community safe and open, but within its academic programs.
“We’re shifting with our industries,” she said. “What we’re doing isn’t a UW Oshkosh fix. This is something that our two fields have had to figure out and they have had to answer the call of how to still produce content safely during a pandemic and how to still bring theater to audiences at home.
“That is what I’m really trying to instill in my students, that this is still preparing you for your careers.”
Season at a glance
Love, Guilt and Other Family Values
UW Oshkosh Theatre Department 2020-21 season
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
Directed by Merlaine Angwall
Nov. 28-Dec. 6
The Glass Menagerie
Directed by Richard Kalinoski
Nov. 28-Dec. 6
◊ Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the UW Oshkosh theatre department’s upcoming season will be presented completely online.
◊ Tickets go on sale Nov. 1 at uwosh.edu/theatre/productions. Tickets are $8.50 for the general public and $2 for students, faculty, staff and alumni. Each ticket grants access to both productions and includes repeat viewings. Both can be viewed anytime between Nov. 28 and Dec. 6.