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The Show Must Go On

Written by Allison Nitch

January 14, 2021

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Seattle University’s Performing Arts & Arts Leadership (PAAL) Theatre program put on virtual production of Anton Chekov classic.

How do you put on a stage performance—replicating as close to possible a real theatre experience—in light of COVID-19?

Seattle University’s Theatre department has done just that. Abiding with social distancing measures, the department coordinated a virtual production of Anton Chekhov’s Three Sisters.

“This show was selected before COVID-19 happened,” says Ki Gottberg, director and theatre professor. I love the play, never tire of listening to the ideas and adore how truly funny it is … and how poignant.”

Three Sisters streamed its four performances Oct. 29-Nov. 1, 2020, with tickets supporting the Theatre Program Scholarship Fund.

Set in the “now/future of a post-pandemic world,” Gottberg adapted the script to suit a virtual presentation. Over the summer, she met online with longtime composer, collaborator and Grammy winner Casey James. “For me, having a character burst into song as the only way to really express their feelings is inherently theatrical,” says Gottberg. “It all just seemed too perfect not to try and dig into this old classic in a new way.”

Each quarter, the Performing Arts & Arts Leadership (PAAL) Theatre program fully produces a show, including costumes, light, props and sound, to give students the experience of working on a professional production.

Mounting a theatrical show virtually required new outlooks and strategies. It starts with a production team comprised of professional designers, their student mentees and Gottberg to go over the script and ideas for props, costumes and how to create a theatre experience online. Known as the “Stream Team,” students and their mentors then began strategizing how to share the production virtually.

“There are not many ways to enter or exit a Zoom square. There can’t be ‘furniture’ or a naturalistic space,” explains Gottberg. “Actors are not feeling each other’s energy in the room together. But the play itself is so wonderful and rich and the student’s desire to fully inhabit these complex characters is powerful.”

 Virtual performance_winter 2021 magazine

Above: The cast in costume during a run-through of Anton Chekhov's Three Sisters (Courtesy of Seattle U PAAL)

Talia Rossi, ’21, theatre and psychology dual major, says “… after getting used to the set up and going in-depth with character analysis and action, it felt like this was a new and interesting way to perform.”

“Overall, this was a very rewarding process because I was able to see the immense fortitude theatre makers have,” continues Rossi, who plays the character of Masha. “Theatre as an art form will never die out because so many people are so passionate about it and are willing to adapt and change to keep the art alive.”

She considers the upside to a virtual performance: It “can become … more accessible to people…a source of entertainment to enjoy in their own homes, while keeping the live action aspects of theatre alive! As an actor who hopes to pursue this as a career path, I am inspired by what the landscape of theatre is going to look like in the next few years.” 

“It's amazing to me that I get to be in one of the first virtual plays ever as an actor,” says Keanu Armitage, ’24, theatre and kinesiology dual major who plays the character of Solyony. “I can work on my facial expressions, visual learning skills and acting versatility with others using nothing more than virtual communication.”

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