Theater students at Weber State University had rehearsed, designed and were waiting in the wings to put on their production of “Pippin” last spring. Then on March 12, the school announced that classes were going online and all events for the rest of spring semester were canceled.
Andrew Lewis, the director of “Pippin” and a theater professor at Weber State, said he initially thought they might be able put on the musical this fall. But as the COVID-19 pandemic dragged on, it became clear that wouldn’t happen, either.
“With coronavirus and all of the changes that happened because of that, our theater had to totally rethink how to do the theater experience,” said Cassie Smith, a spokesperson for the Lindquist College of Arts & Humanities.
This semester, the university’s theater season has gone completely digital. All five productions will be exclusively streamed remotely.
The first production, which will be broadcast Thursday, is a documentary-style film giving viewers a look at the production process of “Pippin.” The film “Behind the Curtain” features musical numbers performed by socially distanced students in masks, Lewis said.
“I think we have had to learn a lot of new things,” Lewis said. “In the past we have taken for granted the ability we have to create the art that we create.”
Peyton Davis is a student who participated in “Behind the Curtain” and is involved with other productions this season, including “Fever,” “Alice” and “Illumination.” The most challenging part of this semester, he said, has been building the community among cast and crew members that is inherent to the theater when a lot of the production work has been done remotely.
“That’s been a really unique experience to try to create the same environment we have in a classroom or theater space over Zoom,” Davis said. “I definitely feel we’ve had to find new ways to connect, especially because as people in the theater, we’re really social.”
Currently, about 59% of Weber State’s courses are completely online, while others have virtual components. Despite many of the program’s meetings moving from in-person to virtual, Davis said he’s found that he uses a lot of the same principles taught in previous semesters.
“(Storytelling) is still something that’s very, very possible over Zoom. It’s still possible to apply the training and techniques we’ve learned,” Davis said.
As students continue to refine their current skill set, they are also expanding their ability to take on new challenges. The flexibility that students are learning while putting on theater productions in a pandemic, according to Smith, is a skill that will help them adapt to a career in the theater world.
“I think one of the most valuable lessons from this semester season is, when you’re working in the live events industry, you never know what’s going to happen,” she said. “Our students are getting firsthand experience with that right now.”
Oct. 15 — “Behind the Curtain”
Smith described “Behind the Curtain” as a documentary-style film that gives viewers the opportunity to view excerpts from “Pippin” and a behind-the-scenes look at the production of the musical, which took place last spring and was canceled by the university in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Oct. 29 — “Fever”
Put on by Associated Arts of the Theatre, a student group at Weber State, “Fever” is a selection of Halloween-themed scenes and songs. The student-run performance features pieces from the musicals “The Addams Family,” “Wicked” and “Beetlejuice,” Davis said.
Nov. 5 — “Alice”
“Alice” is a dark comedy radio play based on Lewis Carroll’s novel “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.” The production will feature students from the program reading the script over Zoom.
Nov. 19-20 — “Illumination”
Showcasing student playwrights at Weber State, “Illumination” will premiere four original plays. The first screening is for individuals 13 and up, and the second is for more mature audiences.
Dec. 3 — “A New World”
“A New World” features a selection of music “exploring life and the world we live in through the art of song,” according to the university’s website.
The public can reserve tickets for all of the productions, which are free, at https://www.weber.edu/artscalendar/.