Theatre Day returns in virtual setting

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Parker Learman-Blaauw

Grand Valley State University’s Department of Music, Theatre, and Dance held its fourth annual Theatre Day on Zoom on Feb. 13, refusing to let the event be canceled due to COVID-19.

High school students wanting to pursue a major in theatre were invited to participate in a variety of activities online with current students and staff members, including workshops, facility tours and auditions for scholarships. 

Jim Bell, Theatre Area Coordinator, said Theatre Day has become integral to the students and faculty that participate in theatre at GVSU, and it was important to them that it still took place. 

Bell said although they were still able to talk to many people, Zoom made the event, “less of that welcoming environment,” for the potential students attending, and that it’s the environment that makes Theatre Day such a meaningful affair for those involved. 

Bell, who has played a key role since its inception, said the community aspect of theatre is significant in these events and something that has only increased in importance since things like social distancing and quarantining have become so commonplace.

Those first steps to building relationships with new theatre members are key to what makes a great show, Bell said, so it was essential that the department figure out a way to continue despite the COVID-19 restrictions.

Even though he loves to connect with the incoming thespians, Bell’s personal favorite activity of the day typically resides with the parents. 

While the students are participating in a workshop with current GVSU enrollees, Bell coordinates a meeting that the parents can take part in as well. 

“A lot of parents have questions about the major, so it’s nice to be able to talk with them and ease their worries,” said Bell. 

Much of the challenge this year was found in the process of transitioning such a dynamic event into an online one. This year’s Games for Actors activities were done in virtual breakout rooms rather than physical ones, and the visitors were only able to watch a pre-recorded show, rather than a live one.

Preserving the magic was of the utmost importance to the department so changes were only made where they had to be. The pre-recorded production shown was still put on entirely by current campus theatre members, and was even student-directed. 

Bell said they felt it was vital that the young audience was able to see students just like them participating and running their own show. 

The older students become not just actors, but role models and mentors, which provides “a nice commonality with them,” to help foster a comfortable environment once the new students arrive in the fall.

While Theatre Day wasn’t mandatory for anyone hoping to study the stage, Bell said it was highly recommended because of how small the major is, and how close-knit those pursuing it become. 

“Anyone can major in theatre, but the ones that come already have those connections,” said Bell. 

Bell said he hopes they will be able to meet physically for the next Theatre Day, but they will do what they have to to see it succeed once again. As they say, the show must go on.