DePaul theater students perform through the pandemic

The Theatre School at DePaul University, located in Lincoln Park.

Maggie Gallagher/The DePaulia

The Theatre School at DePaul University, located in Lincoln Park.

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has seemingly affected every aspect of what used to be normal life, and among those affected most is the theater community.  

 Broadway announced in October 2020 its plans to close until June 2021 at the earliest, the industry swelled with panic as an estimated 97,000 were out of a job.  

“…Our membership is committed to re-opening as soon as conditions permit us to do so. We are working tirelessly with multiple partners on sustaining the industry once we raise our curtains again,” said Charlotte St. Martin, President of the Broadway League, the national trade association for Broadway productions.

Covid safety measures have impacted theater patrons on every level, including students of the next generation of performers. The Theatre School at DePaul University, which has trained future generations of industry members since 1925, is experiencing this impact.  

Nevertheless, despite the many roadblocks, the theater community has gotten creative.   Many companies and troupes are choosing to use virtual platforms like Zoom or streaming their shows in order to cut the risks of packing a large audience indoors.  

Blood Wedding is the latest production from the Theatre School, an audio-visual experience that stretches past a basic Zoom show. (Photo courtesy of The Theatre School)

The Theatre School has opted for an online showing of  their upcoming show, “Blood Wedding,” which runs Feb. 3-14. The production will be filmed prior to its premiere and ticket holders will be able to stream the show from the comfort of their homes for one 24-hour period. 

However, like most things in this pandemic, this new way of doing things was not what the students of The Theatre School had in mind when sending in their application, and certainly not what they would have preferred. 

“Theater is a live art… that’s literally the whole point. So, getting a performance degree during a period where performances are prohibited? Painful,” said Danielle Chmielewski, a third-year acting major.  

She believes that being physically with people makes all the difference, and the lack thereof has made the process difficult. 

“It’s just not the same when you’ve got to fight an invisible enemy with an umbrella in your living room. The people are a necessary ingredient. The voices, the breath, the shared space and collective energy. Without it, the whole thing is kinda lonely,” Chmielewski said. 

But Chmielewski is remaining optimistic for the final product. 

“‘Blood Wedding’ is the bloodied earth, a pointed dagger and an orange blossom crown. An evocation and a curse and a prayer. Most importantly? It’s not a Zoom play. I, for one, have had enough of those,” Chmielewski said.

A “Zoom Play” is a production in which audience members and the cast use the video chatting platform Zoom to watch and perform.  It has been a preferred setting due to its ability to maintain the live aspect of theater, however, most times the productions can be very limited, as actors cannot interact with one another the way they normally would and technical aspects are almost impossible.  

Chmielewski explains why this show is different from a “Zoom Play.”

“[It’s] grounded in an expansive and fully realized audio world. ‘Blood Wedding’ explores immersive and visual elements while never pretending to be something it’s not – or at least I think so,” said Chmielewski, who plays two roles in the show: Mother and Death. 

Despite not having to worry about lights and stage directions, virtual plays are still hard work, and getting acclimated to a new style of performance doesn’t make it any easier.  

“The pandemic has challenged us to think outside of the box and to discover and practice new ways of storytelling,” said Anna Ables, a spokesperson for The Theatre School. 

Ables commended the students and staff for their accomplishments despite the many obstacles they’ve faced. 

 “[While] the pandemic has posed huge challenges to live theatre, who better than creative artists to forge forward with new and innovative ways to present an idea or solve a problem. I’m immensely proud of our students who have risen to this occasion,” Ables said. 

She explained that the lessons they’ve learned will carry over even in post-pandemic times. 

“Our students, faculty and staff are used to working together in a highly collaborative environment. Remote learning has [led] us to find new ways to stay connected, share ideas and build community,” Ables said. “Much of what we have learned will inform how we work together in the future, even when we are back in a shared space.”

Expanding on this, Chmielewski said the key to success in a process like this is in the hands of those you work with, even though you’re not in the same room. 

“[You’ve got to] have a strong team. The only reason this has been possible in the slightest is because the cast and crew stepped up to the freakin’ plate and took on the challenge with fearlessness and flexibility and funny jokes,” Chmielewski said. 

She feels fortunate to be a part of a group who is willing to work together, even if it’s difficult. 

  “It’s not always easy to find productivity and inspiration in your home, but being surrounded, even virtually, by folks whose unbridled support is only comparable to their unparalleled talent? That’s pretty special,” Chmielewski said. 

For other theater members who find themselves in this position, Chmielewski has some advice. 

 “I think we’ve gotta remember that it’s silly to pretend like your obstacles aren’t there. Playing straight into limitations instead of ignoring them is what makes the product unique, makes it specific and compelling and worthwhile. There’s no use in glossing over what everyone can plainly see,” Chmielewski said. “This is a pandemic. We can’t do what we normally would. So, we shouldn’t try to achieve some poor imitation of what was or what could’ve been. Things are gonna look different. And you know what? That’s ok.”