While COVID-19 might have canceled in-person audience attendance at Baylor Theatre’s performances of “Shadows of a Christmas Carol” at the Daniel Historic Village this holiday season, an innovative Plan B will allow theatergoers across the country to purchase tickets and watch the production online. Here’s the story from Dr. DeAnna Toten Beard, chair of Baylor’s Department of Theatre Arts.
By Dr. DeAnna Toten Beard, chair and professor of theatre arts
Needless to say, every aspect of producing theatre is difficult –– if not impossible! –– during a pandemic. This is why so many theatre programs around the nation chose to suspend their artistic work for the year.
At Baylor, we decided to face the challenge by finding innovative ways to make and share theatre in Fall 2020. Our goal was to keep students safely engaged with their theatre training while preparing them to enter an ever-changing industry.This has required the department to be very flexible, pivoting our production work as conditions change and evolve. Our tag line for Baylor Theatre 2020-2021 is “a pivotal season”!
Baylor Theatre’s production of “Shadows of a Christmas Carol” exemplifies this kind of artistic agility and technical innovation. We had been preparing an outdoor performance of an original re-telling of Charles Dickens’s classic story to be presented to small, masked audiences at the Gov. Bill and Vara Daniels Historic Village in collaboration with the Mayborn Museum. Numerous student designers and performers worked with a team of three theatre faculty to create “Shadows of a Christmas Carol” from the ground up using words, music, live actors, puppets, movement, sound, and light to tell the beloved tale.
But as opening night approached, COVID-19 cases began climbing in Waco and McLennan County, and the difficult decision was made to suspend live audiences in the interests of public health.
The entire production very quickly pivoted to create a plan to capture the performance with video, which could then be edited and shared online in December. Baylor faculty directors (Sarah Mosher, Steven Pounders and Ryan Joyner) prepared the students, made a storyboard for the show as a video instead of live theatre, and adjusted the final rehearsals to become shooting days. We called on our friends in the Department of Film and Digital Media to advise us on adapting the lighting design to accommodate our cameras in night conditions outdoors lighting. FDM professor Dan Beard came out to the location and spent several evenings pitching in for the project.
As a result, our students were able to learn how to adapt their theatre skills to a film set, picking up valuable new professional knowledge. This pivot required Herculean efforts from an team of folks across two Baylor departments with collaboration from the Mayborn Museum staff. The results are better access to student performance, new knowledge and skills, and deeper friendships around campus.
So, how can you watch Baylor Theatre’s “Shadows of a Christmas Carol” over the holidays? It will be presented as a live stream event on Dec. 17-19 at 7:30 p.m. CST, and on Dec. 19 and 20 at 2 p.m. CST. Tickets for the performance can be purchased online through the calendar page of baylor.edu/theatre.