UD students “embrace the festivity” as the drama department brings back in person theater

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More than a year after the coronavirus pandemic halted theater around the world, the University of Dallas Drama Department is pleased to present William Shakespeare’s “The Comedy of Errors.” 

Over the last two months, students and professors have worked hard — rehearsing late into the night, coordinating dozens of costume fittings, and designing and building the set. 

Returning in person has been a slow process for the drama department, and performing in front of a live audience required that the production team plan for social distancing and good ventilation. For Director and Department Chair Stefan Novinski, the solution was obvious: perform outdoors.

“It’s kind of perfect,” said Loretta Bond, a junior drama major and assistant stage manager for “The Comedy of Errors.” “Because with the show being outside, we’re up against nature, and that’s what COVID has been about — us versus nature.”

For this outdoor production, the students who work in the scene shop, under the direction of the department’s new technical director Mark Kirk, have built a brand new stage and the facade of an Old West-style town. 

“At this point, I’ll just be happy if the stage doesn’t sink into the ground,” Kirk said of the building process.

Transforming the Orpheion, UD’s outdoor theater, into a professional performance space goes beyond building a stage and a set. 

Kirk had to find a way to bring lighting and sound to the outdoor space as well. Susie Cox, the costume designer, had to plan for dressing rooms without any real backstage, since the set backs up to the woods.

The easiest solution was to have the dressing rooms in the costume shop — located in the Jerome basement — and to have those actors with cars to drive their cast members across campus to the theater.

The department even brought out an exterminator to spray the entire stage, set and lawn to protect the actors and audience against bug bites.

Then there are the actors, who spend as many as 20 hours a week in rehearsal, plus time spent scanning and memorizing their lines, attending costume fittings and so on — all on top of attending classes and studying.

The drama department’s continued effort to respond to the pandemic has further complicated the production. When classes transitioned to online for a week and a half, Novinski needed to know if mainstage is a class or a sport: if the former, his cast would be rehearsing over Zoom for eight days; if the latter, they would be able to rehearse in person during that time, masked and socially distanced.

It turns out that mainstage is a sport, and after a few days of Zoom rehearsals, which focused on character studies and correct recitation of Shakespeare, the cast rehearsed in person according to the guidelines.

Despite the almost constant changes and difficulties to which Novinski, the cast and production team have responded throughout this process, they are excited for the return to in person theater in front of a live audience.

Of his choice for this mainstage, Novinski said that it is “a brilliantly funny … profoundly moving play” and “Shakespeare’s riff on a traditional Roman comedy.”

In other words: it is the perfect play to relaunch university theater after its digital hibernation because it is fun without being frivolous, and deeply rooted in literary tradition.

“It’s so great to have theater that can be a community event again, and Shakespeare outdoors is the perfect event for the UD community,” said Charles Spurgin, a junior drama major who plays Dromio of Syracuse.

Novinski encouraged his cast to “embrace the festivity” of the play, and this is how the UD community, as its audience, should look at this production. It is an opportunity to remember how to have fun and laugh together and how to enjoy art that isn’t on a computer screen. 

The mainstage opens on Thursday, Oct. 28 and runs until Sunday, Nov. 7. Students and faculty may pre-book their free tickets on the drama department page on the UD website. 

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