SHEPHERDSTOWN, W. Va. (WDVM) — Usually, when you think of a theatre performance, you don’t need to turn on your radio but that’s exactly what audience members had to do in order to enjoy Vintage Hitchcock: A Radio Play put by students at Shepherd University.
Xander Strain is a sophomore music education major who has never put on a radio play before. Strain mainly performed the live Foley sound effects for the play, another new skill he had to pick up for the performance. He was welcoming of the new challenges that the play presented.
“This year has been very different obviously because of COVID and everything, and doing a radio play, I’ve never got to do a radio play before so it’s all very different than what you think it’d be like,” Strain said. “No staging, just sound. It’s interesting to see how everything correlates.”
Although the play was broadcasted over the radio, performers still changed costumes for their different characters. Sophomore theater major, Jami Hartman, stated that the costume changes not only allowed her to bring back the familiar feeling of traditional theater performances but also helps her to really get into character.
“For the costumes, we actually decided that, you know, we wanted to bring a little bit of the performances from the ancient days before COVID,” Hartman said. “But we wanted the audience that is here tonight, the ten or fifteen people that we invited ourselves, to still be able to see the characters and stuff like that. So, you know, I might have an apron for a character, I might have a hat for a character, just small costume pieces to give every character their individuality.”
Hartman also explained that the COVID restrictions have allowed her to learn more about performing and to develop new skills. She had never been required to perform with headphones on. She also explained that her face mask has forced her to enunciate more and to work on her vocal skills.
Parents and friends of the performers were invited to view the play in person. They were able to hear the play as if they were listening to the radio at home using modified assisted listening devices from the Contemporary American Theater Festival.
Director of the Theater Program at Shepherd University, kb saine, explained the pandemic has presented challenges but has also created a number of new learning experiences. She not only had a shortened rehearsal schedule of only four weeks but had to be cognizant of the health and safety of her performers. Due to the nature of the performance, saine did not have to worry about having to stage her students or hold traditional dress rehearsals. However, her students had to be divided by plastic barriers and abide by the campus mask mandate.
“The challenges have just been how to create art in a whole new way. There were so many days where we worked just for the sound effects, just with the Foley rehearsals,” saine explained. “The whole technical process, all of the days before the actual day of the show, have been completely differently [sic] because there are so many different elements of sound.”
saine also highlighted that this performance had many technical aspects that she and her students normally would not have had to take into consideration. She explained that a traditional play would not have the need for a live Foley artist as many of the sound effects would have been recorded before the show. She also stressed the importance of timing as the performers have to pay even more attention to cues during the live performance.
saine and her students all agreed that while the COVID pandemic has presented its challenges, they are just happy to be back in the theater again.