by Jackie Zhang, Staff Writer, October 2021
During the pandemic, the Nobles Theatre Collective (NTC) produced two major productions: Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 which was fully virtual and I See The Light which was held outside and socially distanced. Despite meeting resounding success for both productions, they were still not the same as a darkened Vinik, packed to the brim with family and friends. The impacts of COVID-19 were especially felt by the theater community, as the pandemic took away the fundamental aspect of what makes theater such a special experience: live productions.
This fall, NTC is introducing two new in-person productions: Chemical Imbalance, a mainstage production directed by Performing Arts Department Chair Dan Halperin, and The Die-ning Room, a student-directed production (SDP), directed by Jackie Zhang (Class II).
Both productions are navigating their way through the highlights and challenges that come with in-person rehearsals. “Theater-like human interaction has been deeply rooted in shared space and eye contact, and any other version is arguably not theater,” Halperin said. Other faculty members agree with the cruciality of the “live” aspect of theater. “I personally have been craving live storytelling and I’ve missed out on being able to breathe and feel in the same space as other artists and creators as well as audience members,” Instructional Assistant Bianca Thompsan (N ’15), who is overseeing both productions, said. “I’m just really excited to be in the room with people again, experiencing something all together.”
Students expressed similar ideas about the importance of connections formed through in-person rehearsals and effects of the absence of them last year. “There were a lot of incoming sophomores, and I didn’t know them at all before because they didn’t do a lot of the same productions I did last year, and I feel like I missed them all,” Madeleine Li (Class II), who is in The Die-ning Room, said.
Despite the overwhelming positive energy from everyone being back together, students and faculty alike expressed concerns over the shift from being virtual to being in-person. “Long rehearsals are difficult. It’s a lot of work as stage manager,” Estelle Feinberg (Class I) said. “But it’s been very fun so far, and I have a newfound appreciation for all of the ‘techies’ and what Mr. Halperin and Mr. Diaz do that we don’t see.” The Theater Department faculty also expressed similar sentiments about the dramatic increase in workload. “I have concerns about the amount of time and intensity. I think we’re all a little out of shape emotionally for this kind of work” Halperin said. He added, “And both in terms of the broader Nobles schedule and theater specifically, I’m concerned about how much we should take on and how quickly. I wouldn’t say yet that we’ve gone too far but I definitely think it’s something to keep an eye on.”
While reflecting on the virtual productions that occurred during the deepest throes of the pandemic, actors did find positives from the experience. There was also a sense of gratitude for the skills that actors were able to work on due to the format of virtual productions. “During Twilight 1992 last year, we had our own monologues, which I think gave us a lot of time to grow as actors personally and get individual feedback which has carried into this year’s productions,” Feinberg said. Octavia Reohr (Class II), who is in Chemical Imbalance, said, “It’s really easy to jump to criticizing whatever ideas designers have, and it’s something that happens a lot in theater. However I think I’ve learned that it’s good to take chances and to experiment because it can lead to a wonderful new interpretation of a show.”
Many faculty members agreed that virtual productions offered them a more open-minded viewpoint about the production process. “I think artists have had to think outside the box in terms of how we can continue to create, and theater during Covid really encouraged that,” Thompson said. Thompson added,“I also think that the pandemic really exposed the value of live performances, and I hope that we can continue with a greater appreciation for them .I think it’s important to continue to experiment with how we make theater and what’s included in the process.” Similarly, Diaz said, “Really taking time and taking a step back, not necessarily going for the biggest possible outcome, but making sure that the process and the experience is what drives the production.”
The outlook on the new season of productions ultimately seemed to be hopeful in nature with the actors finding the adjustment to be going smoothly. “Covid definitely was a big obstacle, and it does feel like we missed a whole year in terms of coordination. But we have a really great cast, a great group of people for the mainstage, and in a way it feels like we haven’t left because we’ve been working really well together,” Feinberg said. Faculty members agree with the sense of collaboration during rehearsals. “I think that from a positive perspective, the comradery, the ability to work together as a team in the same room has been huge. The ability to be together, to laugh, to work has been sorely missed,” Diaz said.
Live theater has the power of immediacy and real connection that forces everyone in a room to exist presently together, if only for a couple of hours. The community has been deprived of being able to create, communicate, and relate to each other for nearly two whole years. “As humans we are primed to connect with people, and a lot of the isolation that we had to experience for safety reasons was unnatural,” Thompson said. “Thus, Covid has heightened the need for reconnection because we are recovering from a long period of social, mental, and emotional isolation. So I think theater is a great way to heal some of that. Art always has the capacity to promote healing, and I feel like it’s needed now more than ever.”