Unprecedented challenges require creative solutions.
Professor Kyle Lemieux of the University of Dallas drama department faced this reality when he had to decide which format would be most appealing for his audience when producing a play during a pandemic.
Due to the COVID-19 guidelines, including mask-wearing and social distancing, a standard play could not take place safely. After much consideration of the options available to him and his company of actors, Lemieux decided to direct multiple live radio plays.
The first production, Aeschylus’ “The Persians” from 427 B.C., will be held live this Friday, Feb. 12 at 8 p.m.
“Since we’re not building sets or [making] costumes, we can actually do more than one play,” Lemieux said. “I thought it would be neat to create for our audiences a mini-season of plays that represented a kind of peak of really exciting and really remarkable work of playwrights throughout the ages.”
Notably, the original dates of the plays range from 427 B.C. to 2012. Lemieux chose plays with a rather broad historical scope because he thought that “these were plays that, with the exception of Caesar, our students would not have had prior exposure to.”
“There are some themes that connect the plays,” Lemieux said. “If [the audience] gives themselves the opportunity to listen to all five plays in our mini-series, my hope is that they’ll find some connections and they can create larger conversations perhaps about some contemporary things that are going on.”
The advantages of a radio play further extend to the audience. “Our audience members are going to be co-creators of these plays as they listen and their imagination fills in the gaps visually that aren’t there for them,” Lemieux explained. “When you listen to the plays, you will actually be the ultimate ‘finisher’ of the play.”
Freshman actor Marcelle Van de Voorde described the challenges of doing a radio play from an actor’s perspective. “”Our voice is all we have. No costumes, no lighting, no blocking, not even eyes to communicate the story. Diction has never been so important. The benefit is that we get to hone our voice in a way like never before!”
Freshman actor Raymond Tran noted, “What surprised me is how well everyone can work and act virtually through Zoom. Some of the challenges have been listening carefully over Zoom to know when to speak after the previous person.”
“I definitely think that the audience will really enjoy the last three plays the most,” he said. “They are really funny, appealing, and approachable.”
Students who excitedly anticipate the Mainstage productions every semester have grown accustomed to a single play being performed about ten times over the course of about two weeks. This semester, however, part of the allure is that it’s “destination theater,” in Lemieux’s words.
“We are not recording them, which makes it distinct. You have to actually put it in your calendar and make it a point to go see it,” Lemieux said. “That sense of gathering and community that can be created through hearing a play in real-time will create a kind of conversation on campus that will be unique because of its liveness.”
Everything about the productions will be live, including the sound effects. The company of actors has been having great fun experimenting with what objects create a proper sound for something like a thunderstorm, which occurs in “Julius Caesar” by William Shakespeare.
With the company’s emphasis on liveness comes the challenges of timing, delivery, and how to best capture the sound on the microphone. Lemieux said that this “intentionally rough aesthetic that this is live” also comes with technological risk factors, but “that has a certain appeal.”
The mini-series of plays will be performed once each every other Friday at 8 p.m. The plays will not be recorded, so there is only one chance to listen to each play. Students will receive an email with a link to listen to the play around the day the play will take place.