Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the UMU Theatre Program is masking up to mount a live production. Uneasy thoughts fill student and faculty member’s minds as the academic year ushers in one of the most bizarre semesters on record. Instead of letting the worsening health crisis bring down the program, the department is moving forward with an in-person performance of Kimberly Belflower’s John Proctor is the Villain.
The idea of filling a 450-seat theatre is clearly not in the interest of audience member’s health. Performing in the smaller, more intimate Gallagher Black Box is even more out of the question. These issues and more are the first things that faculty members worked to fix. Seating in the Brush Performance hall is now properly socially distanced. Technical director Ryan Patterson pulled this off in early March by placing trash bags over most chairs, leaving just 50 seats open. Audience members are asked to wear masks at all times. With viewers protected, the cast and crew were next on the agenda.
“My main job, first and foremost, is to keep the cast safe,” said Britt Kolek, Stage Manager for John Proctor is the Villain. “I have to make sure I’m sanitizing any and all surfaces that are touched, that cast members have sanitizer readily available and take daily temperature checks. We’ve been changing rooms every 30 minutes to allow proper air circulation and limiting mask-less runs to 15 minutes.”
As the performances draw near, actors are rehearsing on stage without masks to prepare for a fully unmasked show. While backstage, though, all cast and crew are required to wear a mask.
(The following depicts content of John Proctor is the Villain. Some material may be unsettling or triggering. Discretion is advised.) The department is not only working to keep cast, crew and audiences safe, but to reignite conversations that may have been stifled by the COVID-19 pandemic. John Proctor is the Villain addresses themes of sexual assault, physical and mental abuse, feminism and women empowerment. Those involved believe it is necessary to use the subject matter to foster dialogue and promote change.
“We consider ourselves very lucky,” says Kevin Kern, Chair of Theatre at the University of Mount Union. “The ability to do this is a real privilege, so we really wanted to make it count. This show is going to upset some people; that’s really the reason we do theatre in the first place. People are going to leave the theatre feeling troubled, but maybe they’ll feel so troubled that they want to do something about it.”
John Proctor is the Villain opens October 15 at the Giese Center for Performing Arts. The show is only open to the campus community and family members of the cast and tickets must be preordered. For more information and to order tickets, visit the online box office via the link found in UMUToday in your university email.