The School of Theatre and Dance has moved all production and performances via Zoom due to COVID-19 risks of having in-person rehearsals and performances. The season started Oct. 8, opening with "20/20 Visions: The Violet Response Project".
“This kind of change has definitely been a challenge for us,” marketing and communications director Cory Norman said. “However, Zoom just seemed to be the best and safest opportunity presented to us, so that’s what we ran with.”
In order to attend a show, registration is required for the Zoom webinar. This can be done on the School of Theatre and Dance website.
“It’s actually kind of interesting for us, having our audience be completely virtual,” Norman said. “We can really control what we want people to see and what we don’t want people to see.”
The students participating in the show were each given a box filled with equipment needed for the show, Norman said.
“We were able to give every student in the show a production box,” he said. “The boxes contained lighting rigs and camera equipment, as well as costumes and props needed for their pieces. The camera equipment was certainly interesting. We were working with students who all have different computers with different software, so it was a bit of a struggle getting the compatibility with some of the student’s computers just right.”
"20/20 Visions" was not the original show the cast and crew had in mind. Back in May, they had decided to perform "Violet," "20/20 Visions" director Hillary Boyd said. However, after the Black Lives Matter movement, the cast did not feel "Violet" was the right story to tell anymore.
“After I had a heart to heart conversation with my performers, we really didn’t feel that "Violet" would really resonate the way we wanted it to anymore,” Boyd said. “Instead, we basically built our own show. I let each of my performers pretty much write their own pieces in response to the themes "Violet" addressed or didn’t address, such as racism and sexism. We really wanted to respond to the themes "Violet" has and expand on them, especially after all the cultural changes the world experienced in the past few months.”
Keandra Hunt, a junior BFA acting major from Killeen said that after she and a couple other fellow performers read through the script for "Violet", they considered walking away from the project, saying that the racist undertones in the piece did not really sit well with them.
“A bunch of students here at Tech had a sort of call to action, asking for more representation throughout the department and had a list of demands,” Hunt said. “I was one of the students that contributed to that call, and so being a part of "Violet" didn’t really mesh well with the things that happened and what I’ve done.”
Hunt said that she and her fellow performers brought their concerns to Boyd, saying that performers walking out of a show could be a sort of wake-up call for Tech and show that they’re serious about having more diversity and representation their shows.
“At first, it really was just me and a couple other class members, but after we talked with Hillary, she called a meeting with all of us to discuss our grievances and hesitance with "Violet,'” Hunt said. “It really turned out to be like a general consensus that the show wasn’t the right one to put on, especially with today’s issues. That’s when she asked all of us what we wanted to do instead, and the plan for a devised piece was proposed.”
"Violet" had a few themes that Hunt called “admirable,” and so the performers decided to incorporate them into their own individual pieces.
“There is one character in "Violet" that has a scar on her face, and she goes through this journey where she ultimately realizes that there is self-love within her; that she might not look pleasing but that there is still value in who she is,” Hunt said. “That was one of things that really stuck with us, and that’s just like hurting and healing. That’s a lot of what people took with their pieces.”
For her piece, Hunt collaborated with another person who created a piece that revolved around a white woman’s thoughts and feelings at a Black Lives Matter protest. Hunt said that she worked together with her to sort of take her idea and add her own protest experiences as a black woman at a Black Lives Matter protest.
“She was telling me about how, even though the police were shooting rubber bullets and tear gas, as a white woman, she still felt safe,” Hunt said. “Meanwhile, even though the protest was peaceful, I still felt threatened by the police. At one point, I even had a gun in my face and thought, ‘This is it.’ So, I wanted to create a piece that sort of compared the experiences between a white and black woman.”
One of the concerns that the performers had as a whole was debating whether or not their individual performances were too personal for the audience.
“We were all sort of wondering if we made the show too personal,” Hunt said. “This is a lot of information that we didn’t really put into consideration, and people aren’t seamless. But we figured that was the kind of the point of the art. We showed some of the most vulnerable sides of ourselves, and it’s nice for other people to know that they’re not alone in whatever they’re going through.”
In order to put on this production, lots of challenges were encountered and eventually overcome, Boyd said.
“One of the biggest challenges for me was to figure out how to direct efficiently over Zoom,” she said. “The environment isn’t as controlled as in-person rehearsals. It was also weird seeing all of our performers in different locations. Some filmed in their bedrooms, and then I had them all move to a blank wall to get a sense of uniformity. For the show, we ended up pre-recording the performances and then showing them on the Zoom, so that was definitely a challenge as well.”
Getting used to performing and rehearsing solely online was a challenge for Hunt as well, she said.
“I feel like when you perform through a camera, you lose some pretty key factors,” she said. “You lose being able to connect with your fellow performers, and you lose the vulnerability. It was just hard to overcome those challenges, and it was a little nerve-racking, allowing the individual creativity in. I think it turned out to be a success, however.”
When asked if there was anything different Boyd would do for future online shows, the biggest thing she said was to trust herself more.
“A story is a story no matter how it’s told,” she said. “It doesn’t necessarily matter what medium the is. I just really need to accept that and start trusting my instincts more. Theater is resilient, and it’s going to resonate no matter what. I just need to relax more into my creativity. I also need to get more familiar with the technical side of things to make the whole process smoother.”
The School of Theatre and Dance Zoom season will continue with the Fall Dance Festival, which will actually be projected onto the side of the building of the school building. The show is also slated to be viewed at the Stars and Stripes Drive-in.
The show will open in November, and the official dates will be released on the School of Theatre and Dance website, Norman said.