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Drama society and directing virtual plays during a deadly pandemic

Theatre has faced some tough cuts, short falls and curtain calls in this year alone.

 The following feature by UMDS (University of Manchester Drama Society) Student Director, Megan Drew gives some valuable insight into the trial and error of devising theatre, in a season dominated by disruption and difficulty. 

At the beginning of this academic year, I knew I wanted to get more involved in the making of theatre. However, the coronavirus pandemic and restrictions undoubtedly shrouded my interests with confusion and concern. I applied to be a director on a bit of a whim. I was well underway with my university work and craved an external project where I could flex my creative muscles a bit more, without worrying about marks and grades. 

All the while, I wondered how the Autumn Fringe might go ahead given the circumstances – how could we devise and perform? 

Flash forward to just a few weeks ago, and I was presenting an online piece of performance (iloveyouiloveyouiloveyou) that I had co-directed for the UMDS Virtual Autumn Fringe Festival.

The First Call 

When I got the call to tell me that I’d been chosen to co-direct a piece of original writing, I felt nervous but also excited at the prospect to push myself out of my comfort zone and try something new.

‘If not now, when?

Co-directing a piece of theatre online was a challenge – in interest, time and energy. I was worried that the piece would not have the same personal feel behind it that I had grown to love about student-made theatre. But the atmosphere on our Zoom calls was always so positive, and it really lifted my mood throughout the cold and dark lockdown days.

All Zoom, One Room

However, Zoom fatigue was real, and some days, it hit me hard. Staring at a screen for hours on end all morning or afternoon for online university meant I wasn’t exactly thrilled at the idea of spending my spare time staring at a screens, for hours on end, whilst we tried to get the perfect take of a scene.

To have all your educational and social activities taking place in your bedroom via your computer screen was tough.

But, despite all the challenges, like the ever-decreasing standard of the WIFI in my student house, we pulled through and managed to create a great piece of theatre.

iloveyouiloveyouiloveyou is an extended monologue, showcasing the online Zoom therapy sessions of Merle, a young woman coping with various turbulent changes in her life. I couldn’t have wished for a better piece to create via the online sphere.

I think I can speak for everyone in the cast and creative team in saying that we all felt a certain connection to Merle, especially given the current circumstances we have all found ourselves in. Merle’s search for answers to the unknown aspects in her life really resonated with us. Her unapologetic thoughts spoken out loud showed us that no matter the façade that some people put up, we are just as confused by life, especially during Covid-19, as everyone else is – and that this is normal and nothing to be ashamed of.

Though not the same as creating and performing a piece of live theatre to an in-person audience, creating this piece online offered a different experience, and had many of its own benefits : It helped me break up my various university lectures and seminars, it allowed me to meet some amazing people. Plus, I was never more than a staircase away from the kitchen and snacks through the entire process.

With theatre being one of the industries disproportionately affected by Covid-19, and the government’s response to the crisis, this experience reminded me of the importance of theatre in my life, and how it can help us work through the uncertain times ahead.

Tags: coronavirus, covid, covid19, Drama society, Student Theatre, UMDS, University of Manchester Drama Society

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