Hobart and William Smith Colleges - Theatre in a Pandemic: Faculty Create and Connect
The HWS Update
Variety Show 1

Theatre in a Pandemic: Faculty Create and Connect

Theatre Department faculty share the ways they continue to connect and create despite social distancing guidelines and protocols required by the coronavirus pandemic.

Classes have begun and planning and rehearsals for upcoming productions are underway in the HWS Theatre Department, but thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, every stage and lecture looks different than before.

Department Chair and Associate Professor of Theatre Christopher Hatch, who directed the outdoor Vaudeville Variety Traveling Show in Oct. 2020, notes the “massive difference between trying to socially distance a lecture hall and trying to socially distance a class in the performing arts.” Complexities abound, from modifying lectures for Zoom and Canvas to dealing with challenges around choosing productions, creating flexible rehearsal schedules and adjusting acting scene assignments.

Still, Hatch is quick to point out that for thousands of years, theatre people have adapted, innovated and reimagined under difficult circumstances. “Plagues, budget cuts, censorship, social justice — theatre figures out a way,” he says. “We’re well-equipped to deal with the challenges we’re facing because that’s what it is to be a theatre person.”

Associate Professor of Theatre Heather “H” May agrees: “We’re using the skills theatre teaches us — respond in the moment to given circumstances — to create a season that can respond to and move in consort with a global pandemic.” They explain that the department has become adept at building flexibility into their processes, through innovation in format, process, content and technology. “I personally appreciate working in a department that is trying to create art for the moment rather than fixating on getting back to ‘business as usual,’” May says.

The pandemic has offered new opportunities for connection beyond the department as well. Faculty were able to attend a virtual performance by Nicolas Shannon Savard ’15, MAT ’16 in the St. Louis Fringe Festival, joined online workshops and participated in training sessions. Associate Professor of Theatre Chris Woodworth completed the Anti-Racist Theatre training organized by Nicole Brewer in early December, noting that because of its virtual nature “hundreds of colleagues in the field have completed the training in the past six months.”

The shift to virtual events has served to widen possibilities and eliminate boundaries such as time and distance. May streamed their solo show Awaiting Tiersias live from McDonald Theatre in October, while Woodworth participated in a virtual workshop with physical theatre company Frantic Assembly, based in the U.K.

The remainder of the HWS Theatre Department season includes Supernatural Saunter: The Spirit(s) of William Smith, an original audio play focusing on the spiritualism practice of the founder of William Smith College and directed by Woodworth, and Tone a Blind Eye, an original reimagining of Hansel and Gretel that explores ideas of resilience and othering as told from multiple perspectives, directed by May.

For more information, visit the department website.

In the image above, students perform in  Vaudeville Variety Traveling Show in front of Coxe Hall.