Virtual performances create challenges, opportunities for performing arts students


Morgan Anderson/The Sunflower

Aviance Battles, a student majoring in Dance at Wichita State University, performs her routine “Dear Me” during the Kansas Dance Festival on Saturday in the Wilner Auditorium.

Most learning spaces at Wichita State will be at least partially online this semester, and the stage is no exception.

The School of Performing Arts’ shows this semester will be broadcast on a virtual platform and some scenes will be filmed and pre-recorded beforehand. Each performance will either have a very limited in-person audience or none at all.

Linda Starkey, director of the School of Performing Arts, said students are following COVID-19 safety guidelines like wearing face masks, working six feet apart if not remotely, frequently using hand sanitizer, and even planning for some rehearsals over Zoom.

“It will be a [really]  innovative approach to producing a show we would normally do as a public performance on our stage,” Starkey said. “So we feel like we are learning a lot of new things, new ways to continue our craft and to continue story telling, but just using a virtual platform.”

The School of Performing Arts is working closely with the Media Resources Center to adapt this semester’s first theatre show for a virtual platform. Later in the semester, the seniors in the Musical Theatre program will work with Shocker Studios for their virtual capstone project.

The Kansas Dance Festival will also be held on a virtual platform this semester.

While virtual performances come with some downsides, Starkey said they have the potential to expand the School of Performing Arts’ reach.

“We are hoping to reach some people who would have never come to the theatre,” she said.

Starkey said she doesn’t believe hosting performances virtually will hurt the quality of students’ education.

“That’s something we’ve all worried about when we first started talking,” Starkey said. “…We love that audience applause and the actors always do better when they get an audience response. But some of the kids want to work in television anyway, and a lot of casting agencies …  are requiring that actors, instead of coming into a live casting call, are asking for a video submission.”

Senior Katy Reko is double majoring in technical theatre and musical theatre and design. Reko, lead costume designer for this year’s first production, says the costume shop is equipped with plexiglass shields and each student now has their own individual tool box to keep cross-contact at a minimum.

“We had to completely revamp how we share our designs and it’s also affecting, in general, our season as well,” Reko said. “…That’s a completely different set of challenges, especially for costume design and how it comes out on camera rather than on stage. It’s a different learning environment.”

Although these new guidelines have disrupted the usual work flow, Reko said she doesn’t necessarily believe it has made the process more difficult.

“I actually found that in the performing arts it’s a little bit individualistic, like, when we have to go online we get a little bit more individual instruction because we are sending videos and performances and we get more personal video back,” Reko said. “…It’s definitely been a really nice opportunity to learn something about my own personal work ethic and ability to keep up with the performing arts in this kind of capacity.”

Starkey said she hopes that a live performance will be possible for the spring semester but said it depends on state regulations and whether a COVID-19 vaccine has been developed.

“We will have to depend on the regulations we are getting from the state and the recommendations from the CDC,” Starkey said. “We are hoping to explore this, but none of us have a crystal ball to see what exactly is going to happen and how quickly it will happen.”

Until then, Starkey is staying optimistic about the new changes underway at the School of Performing Arts.

“Live audiences and live performances will come back, so we will be eager for that,” Starkey said. “We are trying to stay positive and look for the new things we are going to learn.”

CLARIFICATION: An earlier version of this story said theatre students would be working with Shocker Studios to produce their first performance of the semester. Theatre students will work on a virtual production with Shocker Studios, but it will be later in the semester — not the first production of the year.