Act 1 of “Into the Woods” is about fairytales and happy endings. Cinderella gets the prince, Little Red Riding Hood kills the wolf and Rapunzel is rescued. However, Act 2 shows what follows happily ever after as fairytale characters work together as a community to defeat a larger enemy: a giant.
Senior and director Kyle Mason said the giant in this story could represent COVID-19. Similar to the story, it doesn’t matter whose fault the problem is, society just needs to work together to stop it.
[Related: Read our coronavirus coverage here.]
The cast of “Into the Woods” was able to rehearse, produce and perform its three in-person shows on Feb. 12-13 all while staying safe and following COVID-19 guidelines. Operating under strict rules that included frequent testing, restricted interactions and social distancing, the production concluded its run with zero positive coronavirus cases.
“Lucky enough, we never had one slip up the whole time,” Mason said. “No one's roommate tested positive, no one's family member tested positive and we went the whole time safely.”
To guarantee safety, cast members had to sign a contract detailing safety precautions. According to junior and stage manager Spencer Lawson, the contract said cast members should stay in quarantine bubbles of only cast members and roommates, get tested frequently and monitor their health.
Lawson said despite early apprehension, the guidelines were easy to follow and he thinks the cast adjusted well.
“I love all the cast and the crew people, so it just felt like I was going to work with my friends when I was walking into the rehearsal room,” Lawson said. “Not like I was isolated or alone.”
There were three performances of “Into the Woods,” with a show on Friday and a matinee and an evening closing show Saturday. Each audience was limited to 18 people and performances took place in the Grand Hall at the Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center.
Audience members had to email a negative COVID-19 test to the director and stage manager to attend the show. At the show, attendees wore masks and got their temperature taken at the doors.
The cast has been rehearsing on and off since November, taking Thanksgiving and winter break off. Since returning to Bloomington in January, the cast rehearsed six days a week, Mason said.
For the majority of the rehearsal time, the cast practiced in senior Taylor Ward’s basement. The cast wore gloves and masks to ensure safety. Two weeks before opening night, they started rehearsing in Grand Hall without gloves.
Senior Maya McQueen played the Baker’s Wife. She said the transition from practicing in a small basement to a larger stage was difficult.
“Even rehearsing in someone's basement certainly wasn't easy, and it was a difficult adjustment,” McQueen said. “But all of us were just eager to put in all the work that we could and do whatever it would take to make the show happen.”
While the gloves came off for the official performance, the cast wore masks for the entire musical. Junior Kevin Dolan, who played the Baker, said it was difficult to adjust to acting and performing with a mask. He had an issue with his mask falling beneath his nose while he sang, he said.
“It’s something you have to get used to and just lift it right back up, and you keep on going as if it's not even there,” Dolan said. “By the end of the show, you'll realize that it's really not that different, and you just have to put the mask on and then do what you do.”
Mason said he wanted to put on “Into the Woods” since his sophomore year and that themes from the show fit perfectly with today..
“It makes them think about them as a community versus them as individuals, and those things are glaringly relevant,” Mason said. “You can tie it to a lot of things, not just COVID-19, as there's something to be said about it connecting to social injustices.”
McQueen said she was happy to spread this message in a live theater performance, especially since live performances are so rare today.
“During a pandemic you can feel very isolated and alone, but theater is about community and coming together,” McQueen said. “I think that is what ‘Into the Woods’ is about, so I am very happy that we were able to share this message of not being alone to audiences.”