The pandemic definitely had an impact on live performances, but it didn’t stop Duke University’s Department of Theater Studies from presenting its mainstage productions during lockdown. Last year the actors were masked, the audiences were virtual, and the shows went on. Fast forward to fall 2021, and the department has joined the growing list of theaters opening their doors and welcoming audiences back to the seats—masked, but in-person—to enjoy live performances.
Along with being the first production presented to audiences in the seats since 2019, the fall mainstage, Golem, was a faculty double-feature: written by Neal Bell and directed by Jody McAuliffe. From auditions to rehearsals to the final curtain, the department adhered to Duke University COVID protocols as well as standards set by the theater industry’s professional unions, including daily testing. While this meant only members of the Duke community were able to attend the six performances, tickets sold out just days after going on sale.
Immediately following the opening night performance, a socially distanced celebration took place under the stars with Dean of Trinity College of Arts and Sciences, Valerie Ashby; Dean of the Humanities, William Johnson; and Dean of Academic Affairs, Martin Smith in attendance. Department of Theater Studies Chair, Darren Gobert, led a toast to congratulate the cast and crew—and to welcome back theater goers.
Noting that playhouses have periodically been closed in the interest of public health throughout the long history of the stage, Gobert celebrated this latest re-inauguration of the live theater. “Despite the innovations in digital production to at-home audiences, the sharing of space between actors and audience, in real time, is fundamental to the art form,” he says. “As the emotional response to opening night and the demand for tickets confirmed, that art form continues to persevere.”
Now that Golem has finished its run, the department will shift its focus to the spring mainstage, Life Is a Dream, which will also be performed to an in-person audience. The show runs March 24-26 and March 31-April 2, 2022, at the von der Heyden Studio Theater in the Rubenstein Arts Center.