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IU theater students adapt to COVID-19 restrictions through outdoor productions



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A group of IU theater students developed “Socially Distanced Stories," a project that independently showcases live theater safely during the coronavirus pandemic.

All productions will take place outdoors in backyards or outdoor public spaces. Audiences will be five to ten people, and masks and social distancing are required. Guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will be followed and temperature checks will be performed upon arrival.

The production team is made up of students Ben Ballmer, Taylor Harmon, Josh Hogan and Hannah Keeler. They are looking for actors and directors to contribute published and original works, solo pieces, dance performances and more. 

Ballmer, a junior studying musical theater, said the idea came from a desire to bring back live theater and create a culture on campus where students can feel empowered to create their own works.

“If we do that, then other ones are going to crop up after we graduate,” Ballmer said. “We wanted to get back in person and we wanted it to be safe.”

Ballmer and Harmon, a sophomore studying theatre and drama, discussed the rise of the Zoom reading, which features actors performing from their own home. Both said it doesn’t fulfill the need for live theater during a time when Harmon said she believesit is needed.

“During times of crisis, people turn to art,” Harmon said. “The live aspect is important, especially for people who miss performing.”

To avoid using Zoom, the production team considered ideas such as all of the actors coming from the same household or creating personal 6-foot “boxes” onstage for each actor to move in, outlined in fairy lights. If actors have not been quarantined together, they will be required to wear masks and maintain a 6-foot distance during their performance. 

Ballmer said he has met students who want to act or direct their own shows, but aren’t sure where to start. To help this issue, the production team’s main goal is to help students find the resources necessary to safely perform their pieces. 

“There are definitely voices out there who are intimidated by the logistics of it all,” Ballmer said. “Even people who didn’t think of directing before, with the right help will be able to be out there.”

There is no set repertoire for "Socially Distanced Stories." Dates will be set as the IU Department of Theatre, Drama and Contemporary Dance casts its mainstage productions. The group will build performances as they receive submissions from actors and directors. 

The licensing and financing of performances will be left up to the director’s discretion.

Any student interested can reach out to the production team. Applicants do not need to be theater students.

Although this is an evolving project in the early stages of development, the production team said they are confident in their plan and preparation to ensure the performance of safe, in-person theater for all.

“We know this is kind of daunting and intimidating right now, but we’re not just leaping into this in-person stuff,” Ballmer said. “We’re going to try it, and we’ll see what happens.”

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