By Chris Crymes
Photo by Jessica King
If there is one general field hit hardest by COVID-19’s residence this year, it’s the entertainment industry — specifically, live performance. With The New York Times reporting the new high of daily cases in America peaking at over 99,000 on Oct. 30, the idea of performing or taking in live performances seems to drift further away. Tyler Junior College’s Performing Arts Department is fighting this every step of the way with as much hands-on learning and safely distanced productions as possible.
“First and foremost, we didn’t stop doing theatre. We just stopped public performances. So, right now we’re on hold to the public but not to the TJC theatre family. Anyone involved in a theatre class can come to watch our closed shows,” said Denise Weatherly-Green, director and theatre professor.
TJC theatre does already have several small-scale shows under their belt this semester. From plays in the Jean Browne Theatre, “The Drowning Girls” and “God of Carnage,” to live readings of William Inge’s one act plays in the TJC Woodlands parking lot space, it’s difficult to imagine how one goes about mounting a production during times like these. Setting up the theatre for social distanced seating and sanitation is one thing, but blocking and movement is another challenge.
“The whole way we’re staging is social-distanced. For plays, the blocking is set up where the actors never come within six feet of each other and they wear face shields,” Weatherly-Green said.
For readings, Weatherly-Green explained students stay in their designated space and use the props in that area.
Despite going through the mind-boggling production process like this, many theatre classes are not being held in TJC’s theatre complex. This can put a damper on the hands-on nature of learning theatre.
“If I take you out of the theatrical space, you miss half of your education. Everything we do in design, everything we do in mounting a production absolutely has everything to do with the space that you’re in,” Weatherly-Green said. “We’re going to keep giving as much education to the students in the instances that we’re given.”
For anyone in any kind of theatre class, TJC theatre has “The Fantasticks,” featuring live music, opening the week before Thanksgiving, Nov. 16-20.
Next semester, TJC theatre productions will include a reversal of fairy tale tropes, “Disenchanted,” the existential classic “No Exit,” and “Daddy’s Dyin: Who’s Got the Will?,” a dark comedy. All have auditions open to any full-time, part-time or dual credit student at TJC.
One last way to get involved in performing is called “Venue,” a live coffee house open-mic sponsored by TJC’s oldest organization: Las Mascaras. An interested student can perform potentially any kind of piece, whether it’s a song, dance, instrumental piece or poetry. “Venue” is held outdoors in the parking lot of Apache Woodlands.