November 23, 2020

SIU theater students use their pandemic experiences to create plays

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. – While COVID-19 negated their ability to perform before live audiences this semester, Southern Illinois University Carbondale theater students are refusing to stop the show. Nearly 50 students are creating a series of 10 short plays inspired by their own pandemic experiences and research.

The students will perform “Pandemic Plays! Some Socially Distanced Devised Drama” starting at 2 p.m. Nov. 28 via live stream on YouTube. The production will also be available on YouTube afterward.

Collaborative efforts

The virtual performances are a collaboration of work by students in a theater insight class and a freshman theater seminar class, both taught by Lavinia Roberts, a second-year MFA theater student. The entire process – devising scripts, rehearsals and the performances –  is virtual, she said.

Roberts said Anne Fletcher, a professor in theater, is supervising both of the classes Roberts is teaching. “Dr. Fletcher is a huge proponent of art-based learning and keeping the virtual versions of our theater classes as collaborative, engaging and creative as their in-person counterparts,” Roberts said.

Different types of creation

Students learned about devised theater, where an ensemble rather than a single playwright creates a script, and ethnotheatre, where researchers write a script based on print and social media articles, journal entries and interviews. The research is then presented as a performance, Roberts said.

For this project, students researched how COVID-19 is affecting life on campus through interviews with peers, newspaper articles and their own experiences. Students also brought props, including masks, hand-sanitizers, gloves and tissue boxes.

“I am really impressed by the quality of the writing, how committed and vulnerable the students were to the process and in the telling of these stories, as well as learning about how the pandemic had impacted their lives,” she said.

Opportunity for students to connect

Each play will run between three and five minutes, Roberts said. The performances will show a diversity of experiences, including how the pandemic has affected international students and students living in residence halls.

“The project provided an opportunity for students to connect, collaborate, share their experiences and remind them that they are not alone in processing this pandemic,” Roberts said. “They were able to share how it has impacted their university experience and their lives here in southern Illinois.”