GV Theatre Department battles technical issues, physical boundaries in preparation for fall play


Courtesy to GVSU Theatre Department

Mary Dupuis

Preparations for the Grand Valley State University Theatre Department’s livestreamed production of “The Revolutionists are well underway. This year’s fall play is a comedy that follows four women during the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror and how they go about changing the world through it. 

Rehearsing for up to four hours a day, five times a week, the cast and crew are working to make this modified version of their typical fall play one to remember. 

Even though there is only a week left to finalize the production, plans were put into motion well in advance to maximize the amount of time available for everyone involved to adjust to the new virtual setting the production will be taking place in. In July 2020, when the university itself was still undecided as to which route it would take to welcome students back to school, director Karen Libman knew exactly how she wanted to proceed to make the play a reality. 

“We wanted to make sure that no matter what there could still be a production — even if everyone had to perform it from home,” Libman said. “We wanted to keep one of the things that makes theatre so unique the same, which in this case is its liveness. So, we decided to do a livestream as opposed to a recording.”

Prior to auditions, bits and pieces of the script were posted for students to look over and decide which part caught their attention. Then, the auditions were held over Zoom. 

Cast member Anna Compton said the audition process was as simple as it could have been. 

“The audition itself was basically like hopping on a Zoom call meshed with the typical cold read audition style,” said Compton. 

Madison Williams, another cast member in the show, felt the same way. She said it was one of the easiest auditions she had ever taken part in. 

“The audition itself was the most peaceful and calming audition I have ever done,” Williams said.  “Karen, the director, has a very welcoming and calming energy that immediately made all of my nerves slip away. I think it also helped that I had a class with her in the past, so I was pretty comfortable with her. I read my lines, sang a song and just like that it was over — very quick and easy.”

Following auditions, rehearsals were held online. The cast would practice at home on Zoom almost every day from about 6:30-9:15 p.m. Now, as the date of the livestream approaches, the cast is meeting at the Thomas and Marcia J. Haas Center for Performing Arts. 

In order to remain as safe as possible, each cast member remains in their own dressing room during rehearsals. Inside the dressing room is a green screen for the performer to act in front of, their props and their costumes. 

As smooth of a process as it sounds, being physically separated as well as being faced with consistent technological issues has made rehearsals quite the uphill battle. Williams has found most of the challenge to be in the physical separation between herself and her castmates. 

“The hardest challenge so far has definitely been figuring out the blocking for the show,” Williams said. “Since we are all confined to our own dressing rooms and cannot physically be in the same space, we had to come up with a way to give the audience the illusion that we are still acting with each other, rather than at each other.”

Libman said technological errors such as Zoom lagging, microphone echoing and buzzing noises have all been important struggles to overcome during rehearsals. 

“Zoom lags are like death in the theatre,” Libman said. “Two of the cast members had bad internet at one point from where they were rehearsing. So it would seem like one of them was waiting a while before she said her line. It turns out it was just a weird lag the whole time.”

Dealing with such technological issues from so early on has led the cast to bring in the tech crew for the production much earlier than usual. 

“Tech has been so important during this process,” Compton said. “Normally tech is handled behind the scenes for a majority of the rehearsal time, and the actors only really have to deal with it for the last two or three weeks of rehearsal. This has been a lot more integrated. We’ve been dealing with new levels and factors of the tech since about week one.”

All rehearsal issues aside, the cast members feel that the message of the show is more important now than ever for their virtual audience to hear. 

“I hope people pay attention to the themes in the show,” Compton said. “It’s got so many great messages that can be applied to what we’re still struggling with today. Feminism, equality, power struggles, and freedom of expression are all important parts of this show. It’s a show that screams that we will not be silenced. Equality is worth the risk, and that’s the lesson that Olympe has to learn in the show. A story will live beyond us, so we have to make sure the story is righteous and real.”

The live streams will take place on Nov. 9, 11, and 13 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets can be purchased through the website https://www.showtix4u.com/event-details/40001.