Theater department thrives amidst COVID-19


Abigail Larson

Reporting by Abigail Larson and Miles Potje.
As students at Augustana return to their roles in campus activities, members of the theater department are learning to adjust to the new season and the complications that COVID-19 has created.
Among adjustments to the calendar, there have also been changes to the actual productions being put on this year. Additionally, the pandemic has brought new rehearsal and performance guidelines for the audience and actors to adhere to.
The original theater season at Augustana featured the fairytale musical “Into the Woods,” directed by Shelley Cooper, and “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime,” directed by Jeffrey Coussens, in the fall. Then for the spring a production of “Much Ado About Nothing,” directed by Jennifer Popple.
However, because of COVID-19, the department has collectively decided to postpone the musical until early spring and has changed the spring performance to “One Flea Spare,” a play set in 1665 London that follows four people quarantined during the plague. “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime” will still debut during the fall term but has been pushed to the final weekend before Thanksgiving break.
As far as what the season holds for student-directed productions, senior SophiaRose Brown is directing “Doctor Faustus” in the fall, and in the late spring, junior Noah Hill will be directing “Pirates of Penzance.”
Rehearsals and performances will look different from pre-COVID theater, but they will still happen.
“We knew we didn’t want to cancel all the shows again…As an educational institution and also just as artists, the idea of saying we’re just not gonna have this happen was really unthinkable,”  Jennifer Popple, associate professor of theatre arts,  said.
Both rehearsals and performances will require masks and physical distancing from all parties involved, and digital tickets and programs will be used throughout the entire season.
Performances will also utilize other technology to assist in telling the story, including pre-recorded videos and projections. Coussens mentioned how the masks and open space will help immerse the audience in the feelings of isolation that the main character of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime” experiences.
“We’re going to tell the story in a way that embraces protocol for COVID-19 instead of trying to ignore it,” Coussens, professor of theater arts, said.
In addition to the theater productions on stage, the many off-stage theater groups have found ways to remain involved during this time. The abrupt end of in-person classes last year led to the cancellation of Little Happenings’ Show, but their current President Cassandra Karn said they are working on producing a more virtual show this term and planning for another spring term.
Noah Hill, junior, echoed Coussens’s statement about leaning into the challenges presented by COVID.
“Some are viewing this as ‘Oh, okay how are we going to do theater and get around the new rules that we have to follow,’ but I think it’s a thing of how do we do theater while embracing these new rules that we have to follow,” Hill said. “It is a roadblock, but at the same time it’s one of those things you have to work through it to see how strong theater is.”