Like many organizations on the Clarke University campus, the theatre program had to put everything on hold when classes went online in the spring of 2020. Rehearsals for the second production of the semester had just started a week before spring break began, and, as like most things in America around that time, did not continue. Nick Halder, who is the Theatre Director in Residence, was slated to direct Vanities, a musical about three women over 30 years of their life from high school to adulthood, when production had to suddenly stop. Due to the online shift, students were also unable to say goodbye to each other (especially students that were graduating) like they would usually be able to.
The production ultimately could not continue because, as Halder stated, “A lot of the licensing companies at that time didn’t allow for online or streaming or virtual kind of performances.” That has changed since then, but not in time for the production to be put on. Instead, Nick had the two remaining theatre students work on parts of the musical in their online instruction, such as working on music from the musical in voice lessons. Hannah Hoftender, a current Clarke theatre student, was supposed to be the stage manager for the production and lost that opportunity in the shift to online. For now, the theatre program is holding onto Vanities and hopes to possibly be able to produce it in the future.
This is not the only big change that the Clarke theatre program has gone through, though. In 2018, the drama and musical theatre majors were cut due to low enrollment in the program. According to Joe Klinebriel, the professor of Drama and Chair of Visual and Performing Arts, the changes involved a “teach-out,” where the current students would be allowed to continue in the program and graduate from it, but new students were not accepted. Nick Halder moved from a teaching position to a supervisory position over the program. Instead of having a four-show season as they’ve usually had, Joe states that they’ll instead have a mix of events, including one production per semester and exciting opportunities to get non-theatre students interested in the program. For the students who were still in the program, the change was difficult because they were unable to be able to mentor new students in the program.
Theatre, like many other arts, has been hit hard by the pandemic, with some predictions saying that in-person shows will not happen until July of 2021. Both Halder and Klinebriel have friends or acquaintances that have not been able to find work in the theatre industry in months because of the shutdowns. Klinebriel mentioned that he knows people who have had to turn to different areas to make money or have had to leave the cities they were living in because of the lack of work. Halder, who also runs Rising Star Theatre Company, a nonprofit company in Dubuque, had to postpone all three shows that were supposed to happen over the summer. However, the pandemic has also jumpstarted new innovations in the theatre industry. Licensing companies have started to allow some shows to be produced online so that theatre can still be enjoyed at home. Hoftender was fortunately able to participate in some forms of theatre over the summer as she did virtual online programs for children through her library.
Although there may not be any plans for in-person shows this semester, the Clarke theatre program will still be in action. They recently announced a partnership with Clarke alum Heather Meyer, a playwright currently working in Minneapolis. The plan is to follow along with the full production of a play and work closely with the playwright to produce it. The play will eventually be performed at Clarke in April of 2021. Starting on Thursday, October 1, Clarke students were able to see the different stages of development that go along with writing and producing a show, and a virtual panel discussion was held. The panel featured Meyer, the playwright, along with Tony Award-winning director Rachel Chavkin, known for directing Natasha, Pierre, & The Great Comet of 1812 and Hadestown. It continued with a reading of Otherworld, the play being produced, on October 8th that is open to all students and staff. The play has roots in Greek mythology but is closely related to the strange world that we live in today and is the perfect piece to be producing in a time like this.