Edward Park is a third year student with a BsED writings track. EP909767@wcupa.edu
Last week, I spoke to Associate Professor Martin Dallago, the production manager at the Department of Theatre and Dance at West Chester University, about how COVID-19 was affecting this semester and the next for their department.
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to play a massive part in everyday life, forcing people to stay at home, wear masks and social distance. Those at West Chester University know this all too well — with the current fall semester being almost completely online with few exceptions, and the standard practice of using Zoom, the video-streaming platform, for practically everything from normal classes to guest speakings and all sorts of other gatherings, that would have otherwise been in person if not for the pandemic. This week, with the help of Dallago, I will discuss the current situation at, debatably, the more severely-hit department at the school: the Department of Theatre and Dance.
After introductions were out of the way I began the interview with a question as to how the pandemic was for him: “Very different. In addition to some classes that have, of course, changed as well, part of my duties at West Chester is to produce shows.” He elaborated that this particular portion of his job was absolutely a labor commonly done within close proximity of others — if not touching — as well as often being on physical stages rather than through streaming services like Zoom. Due to how the semester and the pandemic have been going however, all more intimate productions like that have been halted due to concerns revolving around the virus.
However, that doesn’t mean they haven’t been doing shows this semester. “So in the last six months, nine months, we have basically retooled ourselves to actually try to produce our shows virtually.” Over the course of the semester, despite the fact that they are not able to perform in front of live audiences or really between each other either, the department has been able to do two successful shows this semester with “Unmute Yourself,” a performance using features like Zoom to perform two live performances on both Oct. 23 and Oct. 24, and their Virtual Concert, which was performed on Nov. 5. They had to redo their entire schedule due to the virus but were still able to perform by changing what kinds of shows they did. “Unmute Yourself” was a performance that, as mentioned before, could be entirely done separately and online through Zoom. The Virtual Concert was done entirely on Zoom where all the performers did their part, not on stages, but wherever they could find the safe space that would allow them to perform. Finally, their next show “She Kills Monsters: Virtual Realms” is a screenplay that was originally meant to be done in-person, but the creator of the play adapted it in March. After discussing the plays themselves, Dallago went into detail about how happy he was about the growth in the students, about how they learned how to present themselves on camera and how production was different. Instead of sets to build many times they had to do other things that have led to a new kind of play: “We had to kind of learn a new language. Theatre has a lot of jargon and terminology that applies to how the stage works. We kind of had to adapt to that, so that it applies to stuff like Zoom, which was a challenge, but I think kind of fun.”
Another thing that I was curious about were the classes. Because of COVID-19, many classes that would have taken place in-person are no longer able to function without high risk of contagion. While certain classes have gotten an exception to the online-only rule due to the circumstance surrounding the class, I wasn’t sure if dance or theatre classes would be considered for that circumstance. To my surprise, they were: “We have a few hybrid classes. Several of the dance classes are hybrid. The voice classes that we have are hybrid. And I think one of the acting classes is hybrid. There are certain classes we really can’t do without the student and instructor being in the room.” A particular class that he mentioned regarding the exceptions was the voice classes, saying that it is incredibly difficult to assist the students when the streaming service already muddles or warps the voices already. Dance classes have also been changed to accommodate the virus where they are social distancing not only six-feet apart, but further away, due to the nature of the dance classes potentially spreading the virus a tad further than if people were still.
After being asked what the plans are for next semester, Dallago discussed what they were currently doing to prepare for what is to come. Their plans for classes are to try to get a couple more hybrid classes for those that would greatly benefit from the physical experience. As for shows: “Production wise, we’re exploring additional opportunities and options… For the next semester, I’m not sure how we are presenting our shows, but I do know we are presenting them.” He further stated that COVID-19 has been a great learning experience for the students to better prepare them for the future and how the entertainment world might be shaped from this pandemic.