Within today’s socially distanced society, many clubs and organizations have been forced to navigate COVID-19 with obligations of creating innovative safety precautions. These measures of public safety have become the number one priority when planning events, and have often led to the establishment of capacity limits or entire cancellations altogether. However, the ingenuities of the NMU theatre department have allowed for their typical events to commence during this unprecedented academic year. When speaking of the preventative measures that have been implemented, the Director of Theatre and Dance department, Bill Digneit, mentions them as COVID-19 creations.
From creating the outdoor Shoreline Theatre for an alternative show method, filming theatre productions as cinematic videography, and implementing masks within the costume designs, the theatre department has explored many new mediums to assure that their students and staff still receive a similar—and somewhat normal—theatre experience.
“We come to work to make sure that we can give the best student experience that we possibly can. We can’t just wait, we have to push forward to give everyone what we can in a safe manner,” Digneit said.
Although these precautions may not have been the easiest to adapt to when rehearsing and performing this semester’s productions, they allowed the department to continue their work.
In fact, the first production of the semester, “War of the Worlds”, was released on Nov. 5.
Sonja Madsen, a sophomore metalsmithing and archeology major and cast member of “War of the Worlds”, expressed the importance of continuing to work on this theatre production during the pandemic.
“There definitely are limitations,” Madsen mentioned about the safety precautions. “Still, I think now more than ever, the arts and finding different outlets to connect with them are so crucially important.”
As one of the main characters of the play, Madsen continues to explain the new processes of production she was able to explore.
“The director is out of Chicago, so all of the rehearsals were over Zoom. Nobody met in person at all. Everything was filmed individually in front of a green screen, so in that way, everyone was able to take off their masks. With the wonders of green screen technology, we were able to photoshop people into the same screen. We all had to use specific focal points to make it look like we were in the same room making eye contact.”
At the moment, it may be easy for many individuals to focus on the things that the pandemic has taken away from the preconceived normal of life and feel limited in their ways of expression. However, as both Digneit and Madsen expressed, NMU’s theatre department has proved that just the opposite is happening within the world today. An entire new world of media is being introduced and explored.
Lila Hartung, freshman musical theatre major and actress of “War of the Worlds”, offered a poetic explanation of this shift from the typical theatre experience.
“There’s this joke that the theatre has been dying for a hundred years with all of the new technology, but I don’t think that’s true, and the pandemic is proving that even further. Instead, the theatre is metamorphosing into a new kind of art.”
The birth of this new art has not only allowed students in the department to practice within the traditional theatre, but also explore the mediums of digital and cinematic production. Digneit mentioned this as another covid creation that helped to develop a more well-rounded experience for the students.
“It’s significantly more challenging,” Digneit said. “But in that challenge, I think people are finding some excitement and some joy, both in the faculty and in the student sides. The effort of the students is unreal. I am daily impressed, and I get a little emotional about it to be honest. It’s great to see how much heart and effort everybody had; it’s the tenacity and the heart of Wildcats, in my opinion.”
As the opening of “War of the Worlds” passes, and the openings of other productions of the fall semester approach, this tenacity will be continually represented.
In a pre-recorded digital format, the productions of “War of the Worlds”, “North x North Coast”, and “A Christmas Carol” will be available to the public with the purchase of a digital ticket.
The spring semester productions of the Panowski Playwriting Award Winner, “Romeo and Juliet”, and the Spotlight Variety Show will also be available with the purchase of a digital ticket. However, the hopes of the theatre department are that these productions will be live-streamed instead of pre-recorded, offering a more traditional experience for the cast even with all of the additional COVID-19 Creations.
Tickets and dates of these productions are available on https://nmu.universitytickets.com/.