As COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, student performing arts groups and those involved with the Theatre Arts and Performance Studies department are returning to the stage.
On October 1 and 2, theater group Shakespeare on the Green held their first 24 Hour Plays in person since the start of the pandemic. The Jabberwocks, the University’s oldest a cappella group, performed their first arch sing under the Wayland Arch in a year and a half Oct. 10. The TAPS department opened the Leeds Theatre to the public for a play, “Seven Methods of Killing Kylie Jenner,” that ran from Nov. 4 to Nov. 14.
Many expressed the difficulty of being involved in performance arts during the pandemic.
Sydney Skybetter, associate chair of the TAPS department, taught courses throughout the pandemic and designed a new virtual course for the fall 2020 semester.
“I found myself incapable of designing the course without directly contending with our present epidemiological reality,” he wrote in an email to The Herald, emphasizing the challenges of designing a course when most of the student body was not on campus.
The department was not able to hold in-person performances last year, forcing instructors to adapt while classes were remote, Skybetter wrote.
Student performance groups were also forced to adapt. Some opted to simply pause operations altogether. “COVID was difficult for Shakespeare on the Green,” Zander Blitzer ’22.5, a member of the organization, wrote in an email to The Herald. “So much of our work is focused on being together in non-traditional, informal spaces, an impossibility during COVID,” she added.
Blitzer added that Shakespeare on the Green “did not produce any theater last year,” and remained relatively inactive in the digital space as “it did not make sense for us to pivot our work online.”
The Jabberwocks faced similar challenges, said member Dorrit Corwin ’24. “COVID really brought our singing to a halt during the 2020-21 school year,” she said.
“A significant part of the reason I decided to take two semesters of leave … was due to the fact that I knew I would miss out on a full year of singing and performing with the Jabberwocks,” she said. Corwin was admitted as a part of the class of 2023, but took a full year leave for the entire 2020-21 school year.
During her time away from campus, Corwin noted that “the group became much more of a social space,” with semiregular Zoom check-ins and one virtual arrangement of a song, also done over Zoom.
For the most part, both the Jabberwocks and Shakespeare on the Green have been able to return to normal operations, given lifted restrictions and high vaccination rates.
“We’ve hit the ground running this semester,” Blitzer said. “In October, we produced our biannual 24 Hour Play Festival, and in November, we produced a wonderful student-written play.”
According to Corwin, the Jabberwocks became increasingly active over the summer semester as COVID restrictions gradually lessened. “I wasn’t here, but many members were,” she said. “They began hanging out and singing in person to get to know new members better and to teach them what remained in our repertoire.” The group was also able to reconvene for a retreat shortly before the start of the academic year to bond and prepare for the semester to come, Corwin added.
Both Blitzer and Corwin have been pleasantly surprised by student interest in their groups and turnout at their performances. “We were definitely worried that turnout at our performances would falter since COVID, but luckily, this hasn’t been the case,” Corwin said.
“We had tons of people audition over Zoom in the beginning of 2021,” Corwin said. The Jabberwocks were able to audition first-years over Zoom in January, when they first arrived on campus. “It was a bizarre experience for everyone involved,” Corwin said. “But it luckily resulted in us finding great new members.” They also allowed students to wait for in-person auditions at the beginning of the fall semester, she added.
“Shakespeare on the Green has been fortunate that interest in our work is relatively consistent with pre-pandemic levels,” Blitzer wrote. “In fact, we might even have more interest than we did before.”
The group saw remarkable turnout of both actors and audience members for their 24 Hour Plays, Blitzer wrote. “We actually had to turn audience members away at the door due to COVID limiting audience capacity.”
Both groups have several performances planned for the spring semester. “We are so excited to do even more theater in the spring,” Blitzer said. “We’re very excited to be getting back in the groove of things,” Corwin added, noting that the Jabberwocks plan to add new members during their auditions next semester.