Theater Arts Department Adapts For (Potentially) Virtual Season 2020-21

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Photo courtesy of SUNY New Paltz.

In Fall and Spring 2020 semesters, SUNY New Paltz’s Department of Theater Arts has three wishes: to ensure the safety and health of students and the public, to provide rich educational experiences for students, and to support the theme of justice. social through action. In these tumultuous times, none of these wishes are easily granted – let alone granted simultaneously. However, the department is prepared and eager to fully achieve each goal.

On September 12, the Theater Arts Department will produce Tori Sampson’s “Cadillac Crew,” the first of ten planned staged readings. The performance will be broadcast live, but this is not necessarily the case for every show in the lineup.

“We are still entering [in with] the idea that we hope to stage these readings in McKenna [theater] with a live, socially distant audience, ”said Ken Goldstein, professor of design and chair of the theater arts department. “But with that first reading, when we had to make the decision, there wasn’t enough information to make us feel it was a safe and healthy choice to enter the theater.”

“Health and safety issues are a top priority,” he continued.

Whether or not the staged readings are live and in-person or live and virtual, the department is confident that students of all theater concentrations will benefit from an in-depth and exciting educational experience, despite COVID-19 mitigations. .

“In a profession where, for early-career artists, we as faculty members try to get our students to think outside the box; now there are no more boxes, ”said Catherine Doherty, head of performance concentration and theater arts teacher. “It forces our imaginations in a way that has never been exercised before.”

COVID-19 restrictions aren’t the only challenge students will face academically. The compilation of projects consists almost entirely of new works that have never been staged before, forcing students to conceptualize each reading without the help of previous productions from different theaters. The focus on premiere work stems from the department’s focus on human rights.

“SUNY New Paltz’s Performing Arts Department is committed to diversity, equity and inclusion. But too often these words are hollow. It is more crucial than ever to accompany words with action, ”read a statement posted on the ministry’s website.

“In the types of projects that we have decided to do, [there is] a concerted effort to focus on social justice issues, or a concerted effort to examine playwrights whose voices may be marginalized, ”Doherty said.

The goal, in raising these marginalized voices, is to bring their stories to life as accurately as possible. This will include bringing in an “outside” actor to accurately represent a transgender male grandparent.

“We decided that if there was a role specific enough that one of our students couldn’t fill that role, we would bring in an outside actor in the program,” Doherty said.

Parker Howland, a sophomore theatrical performance major, completed a reading of “Henry IV” in the fall semester of 2019. The reading was selected from “Play On!” Shakespeare ”, a project created by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, in which the plays were adapted into the modern language to make Shakespeare more accessible to all audiences. This fall, there will be a “Play On! »Reading of” Two Gentlemen of Verona “.

“I feel like I grew more as a performer and as a person during the week long rehearsal process. [for Henry IV] that I had during my seven years as an actor. This is due to the fast paced nature of the rehearsal process and the experience and views shared with me by an external director, ”Howland said. “We were allowed and encouraged to make mistakes and learn from them quickly with the comfort of knowing we were among other artists who were also learning.”

So far, students like Howland are responding well to changes made by the department in order to adapt to our current situation.

“They keep the authenticity of [theatre] rather than filming scenes and putting it all together, ”Howland said. “They still keep it very raw.”

Regarding the choice of readings this season, the feedback is positive.

“They chose the shows based on what’s going on in the world. They are [doing the best] they can stand up and encounter these issues and discuss these issues in a suitable forum: the theater, which is supposed to bring to light issues that are not talked about much. That’s the point, ”Howland said.

“It is difficult to sum up our commitment. It’s important, but fundamentally it’s our responsibility in theater and it’s our responsibility in higher education to pay attention to our students and our community, ”said Goldstein. “I think we’re doing our best to respond in a way that increases voice representation and story representation.”

To book Cadillac Crew tickets and see the titles for the 2020-21 season, visit newpaltz.edu/fpa/theatre. All performances are free and open to the public, with the possibility of making a donation to the program.


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