Online auditions, masked rehearsals, show cancellations and virtual performances. While the traditional theater experience was modified by the COVID-19 pandemic, this academic year, live performances are making a comeback at Elon University.
While live shows have made their way to the stage for the department of performing arts, any student can get involved with live theater through Elon’s student-run theatrical club Renegade Productions. The club returned this academic year with its recent production of “She Kills Monsters,” by Qui Nguyen, performed on Oct. 8 and 9.
The organization was able to produce a live performance after being entirely virtual for almost two years. The play’s story revolves around Agnes and her recently deceased teenage younger sister, Tilly, a dungeons and dragons player. As the plot evolves, Agnes gets to know more about Tilly, the life of high schoolers, and what she wants in her relationship.
Freshman Erik Houck, who played Miles in the show, said he feels lucky to have a somewhat normal theater experience his first year at Elon, and part of that is due to Renegade Productions.
“Since it was a student production, it is highly different than anything I was ever used to. It was an easier environment, more relaxed, nice, chill, and relaxing. It made the whole experience more fun and enjoyable,” Houck said.
Houck, a music theatre major, said his audition for Elon’s program was different from students in previous years. The university’s solution to COVID-19 restricting students’ ability to hold live auditions, was to have prospective students submit pre-recorded videos.
“The college audition process was really weird because I didn’t actually go to any of the schools to audition,” Houck said. “They were all online, which honestly saved me a lot of money.”
To bring back in-person performances, some theaters adopted face shields or transparent face masks for their performers to show their full faces while still adhering to COVID-19 safety guidelines. Other procedures include requiring vaccinations, like at Elon, which offers more freedom for students in the performing arts when it comes to wearing masks throughout their performance.
With the return of almost all activities to in person at the university, “She Kills Monsters” didn’t face as many safety restrictions this year such as not wearing masks during performances. Renegade Productions took initiatives to be COVID-safe for the in-person performances, mandating each cast member to be tested three times during tech week and wearing masks throughout the rehearsal process.
Freshman Jordan Kelberg played Kaliope in the show and said everyone involved followed the safety regulations throughout the process.
“It was fun to see what everyone’s faces looked like when everyone took the masks off and I was like, ‘Oh I didn’t know you had a nose,’” Kelberg said.
Being a part of “She Kills Monsters” fulfilled Kelberg’s wish of performing live again, and she said she felt everything was to keep people safe throughout the process. Kelberg came to Elon with the hope that the theater program would be fully in person this year.
“After a year of not performing in person, it was great to be back with the people I love in the place I love most,” Kelberg said. “I cannot begin to explain how exciting and relieving it was to be back.”
Kelberg said she believes the obstacles theater faced last year will help the industry overcome similar challenges in the future.
“I think theater is so important since it is an art form that people need right now more than ever,” Kelberg said. “I think it's important, no matter what happens. To use technology to our advantage and make sure that if we can't be there in person, theater has to be there; it just has to be.”