The show goes on as York College students debut virtual theatre programming
When COVID-19 struck last year, York College of Pennsylvania’s Theatre program faced a different kind of off-stage drama: learning a new way to do theatre.
“We really had to ask ourselves, ‘What do we attempt?’ ” says Suzanne Delle, Assistant Professor of Theatre. “We still wanted to connect with an audience. We just have to do that through a screen.”
Students in a special topics class once expected to produce an original musical needed to improvise, so Delle scoured her resources to find a new direction.
That’s when she learned about a software program created by Brendan Bradley called Spoke, which was recently gifted to the performance community to present their own virtual experiences and presentations to audiences.
“The pieces just started to come together,” Delle says, “and it felt like we could make this work.”
A new direction
Sam O’Dea ’22 grew up watching her dad work in theatre, falling in love with the adrenaline and creativity that fueled a production. In high school, she joined the drama club doing stage management and crew. When it was time to think about her own career, O’Dea enrolled as a Theatre major at York College.
Using Spoke was challenging at first for O’Dea. “It wasn’t like our typical design plan where you can throw some things up on stage and see how it will look,” she says. “This really pushed me to develop some new skills.”
What helped the most was the accessibility of the program’s designer. Bradley made himself available to help students navigate the program and try to get ahead of the learning curve for those who weren’t used to the technology.
“It gave me a lot of insight into how theatre is changing,” O’Dea says. “We’re challenged to keep it immersive and personal even though we can’t be in the same room with everyone. Technology is a tool we haven’t had to rely on as much in theatre, but that’s changing.”
The show goes on
Students unveiled their first virtual theatre performance of Charles Mee’s Heaven on Earth. Mee’s plays have a lot of flexibility, Delle says, which allowed for students to turn a dance scene into a song or even tweak other elements to fit the production style.
From students filming on their phones and laptops to O’Dea designing rooms that added to the video experience, students adapted and problem-solved over and over again. The challenge pushed their creativity and proved to be a lot of fun, Delle says.
“Students are really learning to give themselves grace,” she adds. “A lot of times they want their performance to be perfect. They aim for Broadway perfection when they’re here to learn. They need to be open to trying things and knowing that it may not be perfect. But did they learn something in that process? That’s what makes this exciting.”