When the Fresno County COVID-19 restrictions were put in place, the Fresno State theatre department faced a singular challenge — putting on a production while following federal guidelines.
Acting professor Kathleen McKinley was scheduled to be the first director to put on a production for the fall semester.
“How can I adapt and still create a great theatre experience,” McKinley asked herself when she was informed that audience members could not be present during the performances of the play.
Additionally, McKinley was faced with the task of creating a set. Due to federal guidelines, the production wasn’t allowed a student crew, a makeup room, a dressing room or a costume shop for the actors.
For their first production, the department picked “Darkside,” a radio play written by Tom Stoppard which was originally based on the themes of Pink Floyd’s album “The Dark Side of the Moon.” However, McKinley adapted the play to a live-action multimedia experience without Pink Floyd’s music.
The University Theatre described in a statement on “Darkside” as being an abstract and compelling drama which follows Emily McCoy, a philosophy student, through a series of thought experiments, which are vividly brought to life.
The play also ranges over a series of grand themes, which are both thought-provoking and laced with Stoppard’s characteristic wit and humor.
Originally, “Darkside” was meant to be rehearsed and played at the Dennis & Cheryl Woods Theatre. Due to the restrictions, the play was moved to the John Wright Theatre, a larger theatre that seats 350 people.
The next difficulty was rehearsing and recording the play while students maintained social distancing between one another.
While rehearsing, students stayed six feet from each other, and wore masks and protective shields McKinley provided to them. Every student had their own chair with their own special equipment that was not to be touched by anyone else, McKinley said.
Once the shooting started, McKinley placed up to three students on the stage at the time, 12 feet from each other, with one camera in front of each student.
Most of the costumes came from the 13 student actors’ closets, while their makeup was done at home.
It took 200 storyboards and 13 rehearsals to film “Darkside,” but most of the creative work was done post-production with the help of media, communications and journalism (MCJ) professor Candace Egan and student editors from her video production class.
Sound technician and university staff member Regina Harris placed sound effects during post-production and created “a massive sound effect library” with the sounds needed for the play, McKinley said.
“I picked every shot that is in the show all by myself, alone in my home office,” McKinley said. “It was a lonely, lonely process.”
All pre and post-production meetings were conducted through Zoom.
McKinley also had the help of professor Elizabeth Payne, who created a “collage of illustrations” to help set up the stage. The actors will appear in a “box” with the illustrations around them and won’t be allowed to move around the stage.
“It is an art piece that is a combination of theatre, video and graphic novel,” McKinley said. “What you will see should remind you of a graphic novel.”
McKinley also emphasized how fantastic the student actors were during rehearsals and productions.
“They made a pledge to follow social distancing guidelines in their private lives to keep all of us safe,” McKinley said.
Actors only had 2 ½ weeks to rehearse and get ready to film.
Krishan Joshi, a third-year student majoring in theatre arts with an acting emphasis and public health, will play the witnesses, the voices and the understudy role for the Banker and Politician.
“Everyone was good and did due diligence to memorize their lines,” Joshi said.
One of the hardest things for him was to keep up his intensity in every scene even when, during rehearsals, actors couldn’t hear each other clearly as they were maintaining social distancing and wearing masks.
Andrew Mickelson, a junior, will play The Boy.
Mickelson had some concerns about how they would act with all the restrictions but once they rehearsed for the first time, “everything seemed to click together,” Mickelson said.
“Having that experience of trying to be as creative as I can with all these restrictions in front of everyone… it really helped me to break through the creative boundaries that was set in front of me,” Mickelson said. “Whatever kind of restrictions that may come later in the future, I might be able to be more adaptive.”
Tickets can be purchased through ShowTix4U. Once purchased, an email notification with instructions on how to stream the show will be sent out. “Darkside” will stream from Nov. 6 to Nov. 14 at 7:30 p.m. On Nov. 8, the show will stream at 2 p.m.
General admission is $15. To purchase tickets, click here.