The Theater Department adapts to the virtual medium

A new Valley theater production is in the works despite being unable to perform in person.

By Aimee Martinez, Valley Life Editor

Illustration by Gene Wickham/The Valley Star

In a time when theaters are closed, the Valley College Theater Department turns to a virtual format for this fall semester’s production of “Love and Information” by Caryl Churchill.

The production consists of 57 short scenes where the characters explore meaning, knowledge, and how people make sense of all the information in their lives, according to a synopsis on the Valley theater website. There are seven acts that must be performed in order, but the scenes within each act can be arranged and performed according to the director.

“These particular pieces are completely open to a million different interpretations,” said Theater Professor Cathy Susan Pyles. “They’re all short, they’re all self contained. They’re all about seeking info or avoiding info or misinterpreting info, but it's all about relationships and our quest for knowing things.”

The first auditions were held on Sept. 14 and 15 over Zoom. Each participant chose a couple of scenes to act out and were then placed into breakout rooms with other students, according to their selection. After 10 minutes, each group performed their scene, sometimes once or twice, alternating roles.

The flexibility of the script allows for the characters to be played by students of any race, gender or age. It can be performed with as few as eight or as many as 20 students, with some even able to play more than one character. Pyles plans to use everyone interested in participating.

“It’s going to be a giant tetris to try to make all the scenes happen with everyone’s requests,” said Pyles. “I’ll figure out who works well with each other and who has compatible work times. We’ll just meet as many times as needed and when we feel the piece is ready, we’re going to record it.”

According to Performing Arts technician Mark Svastics, the biggest challenge in trying to do the production remotely is figuring out how to unify each student’s individual recording platforms. The devices could range from an iPhone to a DSLR camera. Another issue is the quality of the recording where they could face problems with shoddy microphones, broken phones, etc. Aside from technological difficulties, finding a location to film could prove to be a challenge for some students. Svastics mentioned cases of students who have become homeless as a result of COVID-19, as well as those with large families whose backgrounds would be limited to the outdoors or their cars.

“We tried [virtual backgrounds] this summer and I actually watched part of a production from a professional theater company trying to use a virtual background this weekend, and I honestly couldn’t stay with it for more than half an hour. It just feels weird, so we’re going to set all these pieces in a contemporary setting, where the folks are in their homes, in their yard, walking down their own streets, recording,” said Pyles.

Though the new format for the production will change the personal interaction of a live performance, the structure of each scene allows the conversations to be staged as phone calls or other methods of distant communication.

Casting is currently in progress and no specific date has been set for the production. However, there is discussion for it to be set over the Thanksgiving holiday using platforms like Zoom or Youtube.

“All of the pieces are really about people reaching out, and trying to connect, so it’s very appropriate for Zoom,” said Pyles.