Baylor Theatre Arts says it is now prepared to stand center stage despite social distancing challenges

Brooke Matthews and Peyton Wood, Baylor Theater students, discuss set design. Christina Cannady | Photographer Photo credit: Christina Cannady

By Mallory Harris | Staff Writer

While COVID-19 shut down performing arts around the nation, multiple television shows and movies have safely worked together to keep producing public entertainment. The arts are learning to adapt with what technology has developed during the pandemic. The Department of Theater Arts is looking forward to this semester with new productions and expectations.

“Both in the fall and in the spring, we are doing productions with student actors, designers and technicians. They just look different,” Dr. DeAnna Toten Beard, chair of the Department of Theatre Arts, said.

With four productions set to be performed this semester, Beard said the department is excited to be working. She said rehearsing, building sets and designing productions is school for these students, so it is important for them to be able to do so safely.

During rehearsals, there are strict rules about wearing mask, social distancing and air purification systems. When a performance is near, there are specific protocols that allow students to perform without a mask after a negative COVID-19 test result.

Beard said all four planned productions this semester will be conducted under this protocol. Three of them will be recorded and presented virtually and one will be preformed outdoors. One of these was written and directed by faculty member Stan Denman, and another was directed by a graduate student.

“Doing the productions is a big part of how our students learn; They learn how to make sets and costumes and hang lights. They learn how to act. They learn how to stage manage, by doing things in class and then applying it in the laboratory of production,” Beard said. “So, we can’t not do that and call it ‘good training.'”

Houston senior Peyton Wood said she’s grateful for the faculty within the department, as they are committed to providing an education with all these guidelines.

While students still performed during the fall 2020 semester, Wood said it was on a smaller scale than usual. She said they’ve since learned to do safe rehearsals while adding a few more people for specific plays.

As Beard teaches theater history within the program, she said being in the classroom is her favorite part of her job. She said theater is important because it is a means by which performers are able to share stories within the community. Beard also said the connection between storytelling and human wellness within social groups is essential in today’s world.

By developing curiosity, artistry and boldness in their students, along with seeking inclusivity and diversity in the industry, the Theatre Department‘s mission states they strive to develop a close-knit community.

“Live theater – even live theater streamed on a computer – provides a way to engage with others and safely explore the lives of fellow humans so that we can exercise our muscles of empathy and compassion,” Beard said.