2020-2021 Season,  An Ideal Husband

Closing the Social Distance

by Charisse Baxter, dramaturg

For Oscar Wilde’s Victorians, ‘social distancing’ was a very different idea from the one we’re dealing with today. It wasn’t physical – theaters and other entertainment venues were packed, people lived on top of each other in tenements, boarding houses, and even servants’ quarters – but it was (as with us) very much a feature of how they saw the world. Their view was that, while the social classes might rely on one another, they should only interact as little as possible, and should never mingle. There was an entire subset of people known as “social climbers”: merchants and businessmen with lots of money, gentry and lesser aristocracy without so much money but with looks and charisma, and innovators and scholars without titles who knew they needed influence in order to make progress. The so-called “upper class” looked down on everybody, most maintained their status in the upper-, middle-, or lower class, and a few tried to bridge the gaps.

Today, well… wear a mask, wash your hands, and keep your (actual) distance – no matter how much money or expertise someone you meet might have!

Lord Goring checking in

Also today, as in the 1890’s, the show does – and will – go on. Theatre has always been a showcase of creativity and adaptation, and the pandemic swerve includes live-streaming productions where actors have largely rehearsed in isolation. Some groups have, like sports teams, created a ‘bubble’ for the cast and crew to live and work in; most have stretched Zoom to its fullest capacity. (What a time to be a tech communications company, eh?) Others have branched out and explored what could be done with CGI and gaming platforms. Here at BYU, we have put some very talented designers and programmers to work using Zoom, YouTube, and Discord and built a show while all involved have stayed safely at home.

 

Lady Markby gets the tea
 Her setup is quite distinguished.

Actors have created work and performance spaces in their family homes, apartments, and dorm rooms; they’ve gotten creative with lighting and levels and costuming while learning how to do stage makeup from specially-designed online tutorials. They’ve figured out how to mix film acting with stage sensibilities, and how to be funny, moving, and present in a scene while actually talking to a pinned-up picture, a stuffed animal, or kitchen utensil. They’ve handled their own set design as well, setting up green (and blue) screens and coming to play through a back-lit window. What you’ll see in the online performance is definitely bigger on the inside – and we’re thrilled to have you join in as audiences adapt to new ways of attending the theatre, and bridging the social distance, along with us.

The Vicomte De Nanjac minds the gap

 

4 Comments

  • Ty Hawton

    First off, so cool what you guys are doing! I find the extensive work of the cast and crew both moving and interesting. I’m wondering what the collaboration process was like for actors and directors being in separate places. could anyone speak to that?

    • Charisse Baxter

      Hi, Ty! Great question. This process really was strange. Everyone (the actors especially) was unsettled at having to meet through their computer screens, since the norm for theatre has always been about getting into a room together and digging into the production. Like anything else, though, they got used to it! The online production brought it’s own set of challenges, like navigating performance and living space (that ended up being the same thing), and finding new ways to interact and bond as a cast. Their creativity became much more focused; they learned how to be funny and stay put so that it could happen inside a box. The actors all got really good at listening very, very closely – since they were frequently looking at something to the side of their computer to maintain the illusion that they were looking at another person, what they were hearing became their only clues for their acting responses! They rooted for each other, looked out for each other, and picked up some serious facial and vocal communication skills.

      For the production team, it came down to learning the technology. Everybody says ‘communication is key’, but nothing makes that sink in quite like watching three or more programs operating at once to pull off one show. Programs to run the backgrounds, programs to run the technical effects, programs to show the actors… acting, and programs to make sure everyone could talk to each other where the audience couldn’t hear it! Except for the fact that we were all in different rooms all over the state (and country), and that we were all sitting down, that part was JUST like running a play in an auditorium! Heh. We all had to think outside the box – blocking, choreography, projections, trial-and-error makeup, connecting with the audience, etc. – in order to put the show out through the computer (box).

  • Amity Wootan

    Having worked on some online theatre performances this semester (although on a much smaller scale, for classwork purposes) I was kind of astounded at how much work you guys must have put in to have a performance that ran so smoothly and that felt so connected. The actors were really responding to each other in ways that felt natural, as if they were being filmed only a few feet apart. The technical elements (even the technical mishaps–I viewed the Thursday performance and there were more than a few error screens) felt completely natural after this past year of experiencing online-only communication, and yet it was still polished and smooth like a well-rehearsed performance. I appreciated how the play was also adapted to fit the topic; while the story is still Victorian and Oscar-Wilde-ian, modern topics were inserted to help with the overall cohesive nature of the show as a modern family’s Zoom call.

    • Charisse Baxter

      Thanks, Amity – there was definitely a steep learning curve! We really lucked out with all of our designers, cast, and run crew; they dove in headfirst and brought up some really great ideas and clever work-arounds. And who knew this script would lend itself SO WELL to an online format?!? The more we ran with our director’s idea to incorporate social media platforms and play it as if it was MEANT to be done through Zoom, Facetime, and over chats, the more exciting it got. Things ran much smoother Friday and Saturday, but that incredible cast deserves all the kudos for staying in character and maintaining commitment all through the difficulties (while our equally incredible run crew kept their heads and figured out a way to make it work every time something technical went wonky). And thank YOU for sticking with us through the performance!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *