UD’s Theatre, Dance and Performance Program gets creative during the pandemic

Students in the University of Dayton’s Theater, Dance and Performance Program, photo courtesy of UD Theater Instagram.

Lauren Durham
Arts & Entertainment Editor

The seats of Boll Theatre are empty. Stage lights are down. Songs of joy and excitement no longer reverberate through the space on a regular basis. 

The University of Dayton Theatre, Dance and Performance Technology Program is no stranger to adaptation – it’s part of working in the arts. However, performing during a global pandemic forced the faculty, staff and students to be even more creative than usual. 

“A lot of things have changed this year. There are no big shows, production meetings or tech weeks where we get to spend a lot of time together creating a performance,” said Sarah Newman, senior performance technology major.

“We’re doing a lot of little pieces and then stitching them together, working in smaller groups than normal and only seeing our working group.”

Early on in the pandemic, the program recognized that performing would not be safe. In the spring of 2020, TDP’s “Chicago” was abruptly canceled. Roles had been casted in the summer of 2019 and rehearsals the entire year.

“That was heartbreaking. You can imagine how hard [it was] for the graduating seniors who had their dream roles in that musical and weren’t able to perform,” said Michelle Hayford, director of the Theatre, Dance and Performance Technology Program.

After extensive research and discussion throughout the summer, Hayford and her colleagues determined that in-person performances would not be possible just as the rest of the entertainment world came to similar conclusions. Filmed performances quickly became the next best option. 

From learning about outdoor lighting to how to act for a camera, the switch to film productions added new skills to the performers’ resumes, according to Hayford.

“We all have better tools to do film, to think about how theatre and what makes theatre unique can be translated through the film medium,” Hayford said. 

Even with limited group rehearsals and performances, the students follow strict safety measures. As a costume designer, Newman shared her perspective that differs from other TDP majors. 

“As a wardrobe assistant, we had to learn how to dress performers without touching them or helping them into costumes. In the rare case where we had to get close to a performer, we wore gloves and immediately switched to a new pair afterwards,” Newman said.

Newman cherished the few times she was able to see her peers last semester. 

“When I was able to work on set last semester, it felt amazing to be around everyone again even though we were freezing. I couldn’t stop smiling under my mask,” Newman said. “I learned how much that time creating with the performers, professors, and directors meant to me, which is something I had definitely taken for granted. “

The program’s main project of the 2020-2021 school year is titled Reverberation. The collection highlights dancers, actors and videographers while reflecting on social justice issues inspired by the events of 2020. Episodes will be released periodically. 

Later this semester, TDP will collaborate with the Department of Music to perform The Magic Flute. Senior capstones will also take place with virtual audiences. Hayford remains hopeful that an outdoor dance concert may also take place in April.

Hayford is proud of her students and colleagues for making the most of the situation. 

“No one could have anticipated how we could have been impacted. I’m proud of the work the students and facility have done to respond in ways that benefit our learning and growth,” Hayford said. 

Newman also expressed her gratitude toward the program. 

“The professors and directors have done everything in their power to provide us with great learning experiences while still keeping us safe,” Newman said. “They have provided us with new opportunities that we wouldn’t be available to us in a normal year, like filming and editing. You can tell that the professors really care about us and want to see us improve.”

Recorded performances and trailers can be found on YouTube and on TDP’s social media platforms @ud_theatre. 

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