The Age of Virtual Theatre: How Summit theatre is adapting to Covid-19 restrictions and a virtual environment

By Emma Andersen, Staff Writer

Amidst a devastating pandemic, schools across the U.S. have tried adapting their online platforms to support a virtual theatre experience that keeps participants engaged and learning—but it’s proved to be a struggle. Despite the difficulties, Summit’s theatre club and various classes have successfully adapted to create a slew of events and opportunities that allow students to further their techniques while keeping their theatre family within arms reach. 

 “We can’t just do what we did in the classroom and put it in a virtual setting. It was a little overwhelming at first, but I just took a step back and thought what are the core values,” said Lara Okamoto, Summit theatre club advisor and teacher.

Okamoto’s primary focus for this year is film, which is a large departure from the typical live theatre curriculum. Shifting the entire class focus to theatre for film instead of live theatre emphasized how much the theatrical community has had to adapt since this was the first year Summit’s had a strong emphasis on this subject. 

The most recent work in progress is the virtual filmfest, where groups of four to six students gathered remotely with masks to film and produce a series of short films that will later be streamed virtually for the general public. 

“This has been a learning process for everyone involved,” Okamoto said. “We’ve had to move dates because of issues with covid, and filming, and focus on process instead of product this year.” 

The film fest allows for a sense of normalcy with face to face interaction among students. While the filmfest does not hold the same energy of a large scale production, it offers an outlet for students to practice their art.

Various new events have been created, but old events have required innovative fixes to still work in a socially distanced environment. Regionals is now an event that’s been adapted to fit the virtual platform so students can safely participate from the comfort of their homes.

“Regionals is something we do every year, so we have like six weeks of weekly workshops that are a couple hours, but that wasn’t going to happen this year since the whole event turned virtual,” Okamoto said. 

Regionals’ totally virtual setting still required students to polish and receive peer feedback for their pieces. Summit’s theatre club has held several zoom meetings offering support and guidance for each kid, replicating an environment similar to what it would be in person.The larger goal for thespians this year is to continue producing new pieces while reshaping the typical definition of theatre. 

“We made it a little smaller of a commitment than we normally would make, and focused on being able to do some art and share some creativity,” Okamoto said. 

While the outcome of regionals remains undetermined, the performances may be shown in a showcase through the club’s youtube page. 

Youtube watch parties and streams have been one of the biggest ways students and theatre enthusiasts can tune in to watch various projects.  

“It’s a good way to be together all at once and love theatre at the same time,” said Gavin Felciano, a theatre board member. 

Virtual theatre is by no means perfect, but its imperfections have pushed artists into new realms, and forced actors, directors and writers to improvise with the given situation.

“Maybe we were stuck in a rut and Covid was what we needed to get out of it, because now we’re trying new things and connecting in different ways. It really forced us to think about what theatre means to us,” said theatre club president, Luke Williams . 

While every thespian would prefer a time where they could practice art without worrying about safety for themselves and their peers, the challenge presented with Covid-19 pushed the boundaries of what theatre is as well as highlighting the community’s ability to adapt. 

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