How Student Theater is Being Reimagined for the Remote Quarter

Much about the college experience has changed dramatically over the course of the pandemic. Numerous restrictions are in place for classes, access of campus and student organizations in order to slow the spread and keep everyone safe. As a result, professors and students alike are reimagining the normal activities that take place throughout the school year. One activity that has taken on a new form is student theater.

In a normal school environment, auditions would be held in person, followed by callbacks where directors and producers would observe actors reading lines from their show. The rehearsal process would include regular rehearsals with the actors to develop the scenes and plan out blocking. Costumes would be put together, lighting would be devised, and a set would be built in the location of the performance. The show would open to audiences, who would look on at the stage as the show unfolded in front of them.

The production of The Trojan Women this quarter, which I had the privilege of being a part of, took on a very different form. The entire process of the show was done virtually, from auditions to the closing night performance. I knew, once I was cast in the show, it would be unlike any other theater experience I’ve ever had. During the first rehearsal, I was both nervous about navigating a virtual performance and excited about the unique experience I would get to have.

The finished product of our hard work became a live-streamed performance through Streamyard, with each of the actors tuning in from their own homes. The audience was able to see characters enter and exit the screen as they would on stage, with virtual backgrounds, costumes and lighting to create the experience of a set. It was amazing to see how well it turned out and how we were able to create a cohesive performance online.

A wall with green posterboard and a brown fabric drape, behind a chair. Original photo by Harlym Pike

In order to achieve our streamed performance, the production team had to supply actors with a lot of materials and guidance on creating the right setup for the performance. For the set, actors received green poster board with Command strips and hooks as well as a personalized drape to hang in front of the board. We hung those pieces on the wall that we would be performing in front of so that the virtual set could be displayed over it.

A laptop with LED lights around the screen Original photo by Harlym Pike

For the planned lighting changes in different scenes, each actor used a ring light that allowed us to cycle through different levels of lighting. We also used LED lights taped across our computer screens to add different color tints, like red or yellow as the burning of Troy continued. For sound, we used a software that allowed different sound effects and songs to be played through the stream via audio only and then each actor used a microphone to improve the quality of their own audio.

A color LED light remote and a microphone Original photo by Harlym Pike

Finally, costumes, hair, and makeup were planned to be reliant on the ability of the actors to do themselves. The hair and makeup designer created plans and met with each actor to discuss their comfort and capability of creating the planned looks. For costumes, we used our own sheets and safety pins to create our togas.

The collaboration between everyone involved in the process as well as the innovation used to imagine what this new format of theater could look like led to an amazing and unique experience. Creating a virtual performance of The Trojan Women presented many challenges to overcome. Despite them all, we were able to create an amazing show that allowed us to bring theater to the remote setting that everyone is experiencing this quarter. I am so excited to see how other groups will continue to reimagine theater for the virtual world.