No stage, no audience: what theatre at Vanderbilt will look like this semester

Unable to congregate in groups for rehearsals, perform without masks or even house a full audience, theatre groups on Vanderbilt’s campus are getting creative with this semester’s performances.

Jan.+2020+Vanderbilt+Off-Broadway++%22Into+the+Woods%22+performance.+

Truman McDaniel

Jan. 2020 Vanderbilt Off-Broadway “Into the Woods” performance.

Sarah Lovett

Live theatre has been almost completely halted across the country. Broadway is indefinitely closed. Professional theatre companies are in stasis, and many college theatre programs are juggling restrictions against performing. Vanderbilt is no exception, but that doesn’t mean that the various organizations dedicated to theatre on campus are backing down. Here’s how each of Vanderbilt’s student theatre organizations are innovating and performing this semester.

 

The Original Cast (OC)

This revue style musical theatre group has ambitious plans for the virtual stage, president Jenn Coen said.

“We’re going to be doing a series of videos, hopefully three by the end of the semester, of pieces from Broadway shows, sort of the same way that we would do our normal shows,” Coen said. 

These videos are meant to feature pre-recorded clips of performers and musicians that will be edited together using audio and video mixing. They will be released periodically on YouTube over the course of the semester, Coen said.

“It’s not really an alternative. It’s not really a substitute but just kind of a way to still be able to produce something,” Coen said. 

Original Cast had to cancel pre-existing plans to do a full-scale show and hold in-person bonding events this semester due to university restrictions. Coen said the group had elected members of a full board with the intention to do a live performance before making the decision to move it online, explaining that performing arts organizations specifically have to work to fill time during the pandemic in a way that other organizations may not.

“So much of what it is and the entertainment it brings does rely on that face-to-face, personal interaction. I think in the meantime, until we can be in person in the same large group gatherings, all of these are just kind of temporary solutions,” Coen said. 

 

Vanderbilt Off-Broadway (VOB)

VOB, an organization dedicated to putting on full-length musicals, is taking this time to explore options for theatre outside of their traditional production schedule, VOBPresident Josh Pimentel said.

“I’m definitely optimistic about how we can navigate this online space to our advantage. There are some cool opportunities that the pandemic is forcing us to think about that might be neat to keep around when the pandemic is over,” Pimentel said.

One such opportunity is a new student-run workshop program that VOB is developing, featuring lessons in all aspects of musical theatre as well as some more unlikely topics, such as how to deal with rejection, Pimentel said. Along with social events, this will be VOB’s main focus of the semester.

In terms of cancellation, VOB decided to forego any live performances in a season where they would typically put on two musicals. Pimentel said that he is faithful that the choice was the best for the organization.

“I think I would be lying to myself if I said that I wasn’t disappointed,” Pimentel said. “Change can be good. Change can be scary, but we’re gonna cope with it. In part because we have to, but also in part because that’s what’s best for theatre.”

 

Iceberg Theatre Company

Iceberg Theatre Company is a relatively new organization, which began producing shows written entirely by Vanderbilt students in 2019. President Bryce Palmer said Iceberg experienced their fair share of cancellation in 2020, scratching two out of four shows at the discretion of the student writers.   

Palmer said that Iceberg intends to keep putting on student-written work in a virtual setting.

“We have two shows planned, one for January and one for April. It’s going to be kind of like a Hamilton-inspired, filmed version of a live show,” Palmer said.

Both shows are going to be original musicals filmed through collaboration with Vanderbilt Video Productions (VVP), and each show features a small cast of no more than ten, Palmer said.

“I really think theatre is going to bounce back. Theatre people are built to adapt,” Palmer said. “Theatre is happening and will always be happening. As long as there’s an audience, there will always be a show,” Palmer said. 

 

Vanderbilt University Theatre (VUT)

The Theatre Department and its students have no intention of sitting the semester out, VUT president Josh van der Eerden said. Rather, they are focusing on the educational aspect of theatre through various virtual faculty workshops covering a range of topics from auditioning to fashion sustainability, according to Eerden.

“We’re also going to be presenting student-proposed work in different forms. Whatever people can think of that can exist safely within the university guidelines,” he said. 

VUT, as of now, does not have any planned live shows for this semester, as the regular 4-show mainstage season had to be postponed, according to Eerden. 

“Theatre on Vanderbilt’s campus is just a smaller example of what’s happening in the professional theatre world. People are really struggling with their jobs and with trying to create theatre in this time,” Eerden said. “This has, in a way, given us an opportunity to kind of flex those creative muscles and to find a way to do what we love and create what we love in a new form that’s never been done before. It’s exciting.”