Staging A Play In A Pandemic

Staging A Play In A Pandemic

JAMES EASTON monitors a camera during filming of “Little Women” in Keller Theatre. (photo courtesy of W&L)

Aficionados of live theater have really been deprived this past year. The stages of Broadway, off-Broadway, regional, community, college and high school theaters have been dark these many months, with no signs of reopening anytime soon. The COVID-caused hiatus has, however, forced the producers of plays where “the show must go on” to become highly innovative in finding ways to safely present their stagecraft in a virtual format.

A prime example was on display, streaming online three nights last week, from Washington and Lee University. The Department of Theater, Dance and Film Studies and Department of Music gave a virtual presentation of the Robert O. and Elizabeth M. Bentley Musical, “Little Women: The Broadway Musical.”

The 10-person student cast was simply superb in their acting and singing in this musical adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s beloved coming-of-age novel about the March sisters of 1860s-era Concord, Mass. The music (composed by Jason Howland with lyrics by Mindi Dickstein and book by Allan Knee) adds much to the theatrical performance.

What was amazing about this particular production was how clearly the dialogue and singing came through from cast members whose faces, due to the pandemic, were covered by masks throughout the play. The virtual theater was able to pull off this remarkable feat by doing an audio recording of the spoken lines and songs separately from the visual recording of the actors’ movements on stage. The visual and audio parts of the performances were perfectly synchronized in the final product, thanks to the wizardry of the technical team.

To find out more about how the cast and crew worked in unison to put together this masterful production of music theater during a pandemic, read W&L writer Lindsey Nair’s account on the university website at the-show-must-go-on-camera/.

Enduring the pandemic was made just a little bit easier by being able to partake of musical theater of this caliber, even if viewed remotely on a computer screen. There is, of course, no real substitute for being able to truly witness live theater – being there, seeing and hearing the action live, as it happens. The absence of inperson, live performances of plays and concerts this past year has been a source of sadness for many of us. Locally, we look forward to their return on stages at W&L, Virginia Military Institute, Southern Virginia University, Rockbridge County and Parry McCluer high schools and the Lime Kiln Theater. All have fine theater programs (or, in Lime Kiln’s case, outstanding musical concerts) and their live performances have been greatly missed.

Absence does indeed make the heart grow fonder, and experiencing a taste last week of what we have been missing for more than a year makes us acutely aware of how much we will appreciate these simple pleasures when we have them to enjoy once again.

The News-Gazette

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