By Desmond Stone
If you had approached me last fall and told me that theater productions were going experience an even bigger issue than trying to find new areas to perform, I would have called it quits on theater entirely. For reference: at this time last year, all theater production teams—G&S, the Company, and the Players—were told that not all companies would be allowed to use the theater for productions. The argument made by school officials was that the theater needed serious remodeling which couldn’t be achieved if all the theater companies were constantly using it. To be fair, they were not wrong about that argument; the theater definitely needed to be updated. While the theater underwent serious work, the two student-run theater teams, G&S and the Company, were able to successfully produce great performances given the unique circumstances. One of the biggest reasons for that success, and thus the reason for this article, was the fact that we still had a live audience in front of us during the performances.
Anyone who has been part of a theater production in any capacity recognizes that the audience brings a different kind of energy to the performers, an energy not present in rehearsal. Many theater kids here have said that the people make the show what it is, and that applies not just to members of the cast and crew but to the audience as well. With the COVID-19 restrictions, the frustrations felt by many student members of these theater groups should not be seen as unjustified. As a former theater member, and a good friend of mine, of both the Players and the Company puts it, “A live audience is one of the key aspects to the success of any production.” Another person, a prefect who shall remain anonymous, involved with theater has told me that even if we followed social distancing guidelines, we could still have up to 80 or 90 people in the theater, not including members of the cast. Why, then, does the school push us
towards sharing our productions in either an online format or one without an audience? One argument could be that since the auditorium is an enclosed space, the risk for sharing the possible COVID symptoms goes up as the number of people within it goes up. So why is the school concerned about letting people outside of the college come in to watch a show for two hours (or less)? Are they afraid of not being able to track the people coming onto campus, not being able to get a sense of their health status?
The school sends out an email blast about updated cases of those recovering from the disease, as well as those currently under quarantine. I wonder how they were even exposed. It surely is a mystery. Could it be the fact that on Friday and Saturday nights, college kids are going to go off campus to party, drink, etc. with other students from different campuses? What is evident is that the college feels that we are going to adhere to the rules, especially at the end of a tough week, and stay on campus. Sure, SVC tries its best to get an idea of who's coming and going by encouraging residents to report trips over two hours to their prefects. But there's no real enforcement of this policy, not to mention no actual restrictions on off-campus travel. Besides, visitors are still coming onto campus, like prospective students for admissions tours, even if the number has gone down. So why not let us have a limited physical audience, rather than obliging us to share our performances over things like Zoom? If the argument comes down to liability, then that’s a cop-out, in my opinion. We all knew the risk when we came back this semester. We knew that there was always going to be a chance for us to be exposed through whatever means, but that didn’t send us to the hills to hide, did it? I understand that the regulations are meant to protect us, but if we know the risks, and accept them, why not let things continue on as normal? Surely there’s no greater risk from theater than football! Yes, this year is far from normal, but the reason a lot of us came back this semester was to hang on to the routines that we hoped would keep some form of normalcy. For theater kids, that little bit of normalcy means performing in front of an audience—even if that audience is only 80 or 90 people.
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