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In the midst of an unprecedented pandemic, STC is aiming to preserve the art of theatre while staying safe.
The South Texas College Drama Department is taking the 2020-2021 season virtual, with subscriptions and online shows. Drama Department Chair Joel Jason Rodriguez and Theatre Support Services Coordinator Roberto De Hoyos spoke about adapting to the new pandemic environment.
“I don’t think we waited any time to decide [to take everything virtual],” De Hoyos said. “We just jumped on it and said that it was probably going to be the best thing for us to do, so we needed to prepare as much as possible.”
Rodriguez said the department had a staff meeting in the spring already anticipating that things were not going to go back to normal any time soon.
“We trust our instincts a lot, so it just felt like the right thing to do,” Rodriguez said. “We decided to find ways to better connect to our community and our patrons virtually, and this was the best move.”
Part of adjusting meant a new look for the Black Box Theatre, which now houses a recording studio space with sets built for the first two projects. Using technology STC will record their productions and make them available to patrons at a rate less than if they attended a show in-person.
“It all happened in the summer when we had our first hybrid class, and by then we had already decided,” De Hoyos said. “With the four or five students we had in our hybrid class, we alternated with two students a day and started moving all our [light and sound] booths downstairs, as well as our audio, to be able to accommodate for the shows we were going to be recording at the beginning of the semester.”
Seeing two sets on stage at once has been an interesting new experience for the department. The new look also lent the students a new innovative approach to technical and set designs.
Usual activities like going to the movies or seeing a live show are out of the question considering the pandemic is ongoing – but there is still a desire for the mediums.
“We need to have that connection and creative outlet to be able to escape,” Rodriguez said. “We also have to remind ourselves what it means to be in this world and be a human being and have all these experiences like love and loss. For me, it provides that type of outlet to connect to something that I’m longing for, which is the feedback and community of people.”
Typically theatre is a communal event, with crowds gathered to celebrate and enjoy art performed and created by local artists. With current restrictions, however, STC aims to ensure that intimacy is still there – just achieved in a new way.
“When we saw the first run tests of Cooper Cabaret [one of their first productions this year] we were floored,” Rodriguez said. “It just felt like you had that intimacy and personal connection to the performer, so it allowed us to not lose that.”
Rodriguez and De Hoyos credit the faculty and administration at STC for their continued support despite the circumstances of COVID-19. They noted that creative people are able to adjust and make things happen no matter the obstacles.
“We’re figuring it out, you have to think outside the box,” Rodriguez said. “If you aren’t willing to make that change, you can’t do anything.”
The first production set for this fall is a re-envisioning of the Cooper Cabaret, their final event scheduled for last spring, now as a virtual monthly series. The second project currently in production focuses on the fusion of theatre history and sketch comedy in a talk show format titled Let’s Talk Theatre.
The final project for the fall is Euripedes’ Medea adapted and directed by De Hoyos. De Hoyos has re-imagined the classic drama, and will produce a four-week series which will premiere in late October. In the spring, STC Theatre will adapt Shakespeare’s Othello in a similar series format as Medea.
“We’re trying to keep all the theatre in it – with exaggerated costumes, lighting and sets,” De Hoyos said. “When it comes to editing and film work for the actual show, we don’t plan on changing any of the format of theatre – we’re just going to give you a glimpse of what the show is without the camera stopping. We don’t want to take away from any of that, and keep it true to what theatre is.”
An as yet untitled final production of the season is scheduled for June 2021, and will be directed by Rodriguez. The department hopes it can re-open the Cooper Center for live production events by the summer, even at reduced capacity, with live streaming occurring simultaneously.
“We all have ties to folk or live with folk, or are ourselves people who, if exposed to the virus, it could be detrimental or impact lives in ways we are not prepared for,” Rodriguez said. “We’ve been mindful while acknowledging that we are a community and we are a family.”
All members of the STC Theatre are made aware of the commitment they make to put these productions on, and that includes the mindset of keeping safety and health a priority.
“In acknowledging you’re going to be part of this project, this is what we are going to do,” Rodriguez said. “You’ve extended your awareness and your commitment to all the people with you, and we’re constantly working at being safe in our production work.”
Rodriguez and De Hoyos said STC Theatre remains ready to continue with completely virtual productions, if need be. Community members interested in supporting their creative venture can send a donation either for their program or their scholarship online. For more information about STC Theatre, patrons can also call (956) 872-2301.