Our colleagues in the Office of Research share the story of a successful year for theater at the University of Georgia.
The Department of Theatre and Film Studies and its associated student theater organizations produced over 30 shows, each unlike anything seen before at UGA. Productions ranged from self-taped musical cabarets to live-streamed comedy shows, to multimedia explorations of current events, and featured the work of dozens, even hundreds of students and faculty members.
It was a remarkable accomplishment, but it wasn’t easy.
In March 2020, UGA switched to virtual instruction as the country entered its first COVID-19 shutdown, and UGA Theatre had no choice but to cancel the rest of its season. Though a critical public health measure, the cancellations had severe emotional and financial impacts. One play was called off just before opening night, and the spring musical, though still in rehearsals, was forced to leave behind a near-complete set. Mourning the loss of months of hard work, faculty and students found themselves facing an uncertain future—one in which producing theater seemed impossible.
Department Head David Saltz knew he had a daunting task ahead as he worked with the department’s Production Committee to plan a 2020-21 season that could accommodate both COVID-19 safety protocols and the needs of an entire department.
Producing theater has never been easy, but before the pandemic, its challenges were at least well-understood. Operating in a primarily virtual space prompted question after question: What plays will work on screen, and how do you get rights for virtual performances? How do you hold safe auditions and rehearsals? And most importantly, once you’ve done the work of creating digital theater, how do you share it with an audience?
Image: “The Girlhood of Shakespeare’s Heroines” by Don Nigro was performed by MFA actor Atalanta Siegel for her thesis. It streamed April 19-21, one of more than 30 shows produced during UGA Theatre’s pandemic-challenged 2020-21 season. (Screenshot by Clay Chastain)