By ALYSSA FANT
Seeking creative solutions to difficult problems is nothing new for the Amarillo College theatre department, but the COVID-19 pandemic led to unusual challenges. Theater productions could no longer be held in front of an audience on a stage, so the department turned to technology. From social distancing onstage to livestreaming, the students and faculty tackled the problem head-on.
“This year we’ve had to adapt to the virus and get creative with how we put on shows,” Edgar Camarena, a theater major, said.
Camarena played the lead role in TheatreAC’s production of “Dracula.” The show was staged as a live recording of a radio play with actors separated in cubicles speaking to individual cameras instead of to each other. Viewers tuned in online to watch the performance in real time.
Ray Newburg, the theatre program coordinator, had to work through several changes due to COVID-19 restrictions. “It forced us to figure out how to present live theatre without it being live; a conundrum for both us as instructors/directors and for the students who came here to get live performance experience,” he said.
Monty Downs, an AC theater professor, said the biggest challenge was moving from stage plays to live-streamed performances. “COVID has changed how all technical aspects are achieved. The set designer has to now think about what is actually going to be seen on the screen rather than fill an entire space for a live audience that looks wherever they want to throughout the performance. The lighting designer has to think about lighting angles much more since the camera is not as sensitive and flexible as the human eyes.”
Downs said they discovered that costumes that look good onstage are not always suitable for close-up presentation on a camera that catches more details. “The ‘it’ll look good enough 30 feet from the audience’ approach doesn’t really work anymore,” he said.
The pandemic also changed which productions the department could select since the shows needed to be livestreamed. “We have had to look for scripts that the publishers will let us present online and find companies to help us get the productions online with all of the security required by the publishers,” Downs said.
Both faculty and staff agreed that, along with the many challenges, the restrictions also created new opportunities. In the play “Dracula” they incorporated live sound effect production that the audience could watch being created on their screens. Hitting a sheet of metal to reproduce the sound of thunder replicated the way such effects were done in radio plays in the 1930s and added a creative new twist to the show.
Downs said he sees the benefits of adapting to the issues they have faced during the pandemic. “It has been nice to give our students new challenges and experiences which will only help them down the line,” he said.
Nevertheless, most students said they are eager to put the COVID restrictions behind them. “While I do enjoy getting to experience new ways of putting on shows, I hope soon we will get to perform in front of a live audience,” Camarena said.