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Meredith Theatre: The Show Goes On During the Pandemic

Jones Auditorium on Meredith's campus
Photo by Madison Sholar

While the COVID-19 pandemic has caused many departments to change their practices, Meredith’s Theatre Department has been one of the most affected by the pandemic. For a department that relies upon in-person contact and large audiences crowded together to watch student performers, COVID-19 has resulted in significant changes to Meredith Theatre’s usual operations. However, Cathy Rodgers, Professor and Program Coordinator of Theatre, and Dr. Becky Bailey, Professor Emerita and Costume Designer, shared with The Herald that Meredith Theatre still has productions in the works for Spring 2021.

Currently, there are six radio plays in production that will be available to the public later this semester. The student playwrights—juniors Anna Phillips and Laura Corum and sophomores Bliss Wells, Kate Polaski, Carolina Gao and Kylie Hunt—wrote their radio plays during a playwriting class in Fall 2020 and they have been working on producing them since January 2021. According to Professor Rodgers, the department had to think about what they could do to continue putting on productions while following protocols after the pandemic began. “We hit on this idea of radio plays and just thought, ‘How can we make this work?’” she said. “We had had a student production [of a radio play] 20 years ago, at least...but it was nothing compared to the very professional way that we bought the equipment [needed to properly produce a radio play], and Michael Allen, our technical director, put it all together.” Dr. Bailey added that the radio plays have turned out to be a wonderful educational experience since “the people who were involved in them kept changing their role: sometimes they were acting, sometimes they were doing sound, sometimes they were doing another role.”

Additionally, Professor Rodgers is currently directing Voices by Susan Griffin, a feminist play from the mid-1970s featuring the stories of five women whose lives all intertwine in some way. The play will be starring senior Vivian Porch as Maya, sophomore Carolina Gao as Rosalind, sophomore Zoe Matney as Erin, junior Laura Corum as Grace and junior Anna Phillips as Kate. Unlike plays performed in other years, Voices will not be performed live but instead filmed and released for viewing. The recording of Voices will be available for the Meredith community to watch from April 28-May 2; more information will come out in April about how to watch. The play is assistant directed by Bailey Brown, ‘22, stage managed by Kylie Hunt, ‘23, assistant stage managed by Caroline O’Dekirk, ‘23, and freshmen Anna Prince and Ainsley Mengel are board operators.

Another notable aspect of Voices is that Dr. Shannon Gravelle, Director of Choral Activities, has written original music for the play, with additional music and lyrics written by Emily House, ‘24, and Kelsey McCrary, ‘24. Sarah Bean, Assistant Professor of Dance, is also a movement coach and choreographer for the play.

Voices has given the Theatre Department more opportunities to innovate because of COVID-19. Dr. Bailey and her student costume designers, Jessie Harrington, ‘24, and Julia Langenderfer, ‘21, have been working hard to find masks that are safe enough to protect from the virus but also allow the actors to be understood. Dr. Bailey said that she was able to find masks that have foam on the edges to adequately seal them but that also are clear around the mouth so that viewers will be able to better understand the actors and see their full facial expressions. Additionally, Voices has been easier to stage socially distanced than some other plays may have been because none of the five women ever interact with each other and instead stand alone in their own sections on stage. Professor Rodgers also spoke about the content of the play and how she believes it is a timely production. “Because it is a very feminist show, I think it is an important production to do right now just given what’s happening in the world, not just the pandemic but also the Black Lives Matter movement,” she said. “Dr. Kendi, [author of How to Be an Antiracist], talks in his book about intersectionality—you can’t be an antiracist and be an antifeminist, you can’t be an antiracist and be homophobic. So I really am thinking, this play needs to be heard.”

As for how students can continue to get involved with the Meredith Theatre Department, one-credit practicum classes in costume, stagecraft and front-of-house are available in the fall as is the Introduction to Theatre class and the directing class, which will produce short plays or excerpts and will need actors. Additionally, Professor Rodgers said that students can always talk to professors in the Theatre Department and say that they want to learn more. Professor Rodgers emphasized, “We need and want to involve as much of the Meredith community [in Meredith Theatre] as we can.”

By Olivia Slack, Co-Editor in Chief


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