Photo from behind of someone watching people in a virtual meeting on a screen

Virtual production explores COVID-19 from the CWRU student perspective

2020 (hindsight), the latest Case Western Reserve University Department of Theater production, is a time capsule: The virtual production is a compilation of student experiences amidst the COVID-19 pandemic in the form of monologues, poems and dances.

Performances will be held today (Nov. 12) through Saturday, Nov. 14, at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, Nov. 15, at 2:30 p.m.

Shanna Beth McGee, professor in the Department of Theater at the College of Arts and Sciences, came up with the idea for the production late in the summer when it became apparent that in-person theater experiences would be on hold during the fall semester and the department sought unique ways around the problem. McGee had previously created productions that called upon individuals to write and perform their own pieces, and that approach served as inspiration for 2020 (hindsight).

Earlier in the semester, McGee put out a call asking students to share their experiences, selecting “snapshots” from those submissions and weaving them together into a cohesive story. 

“They’re all within the gambit of what you’d expect, but the thing that constantly amazes and haunts me is that these things are all happening to 20-year-old people,” McGee said. “I can’t imagine being 20 years old and having to deal with some of the things these essays are talking about.”

But McGee said the resilience with which students have responded to the challenges they’ve faced is “remarkable.”

Those whose pieces were selected had the opportunity to audition to perform their piece, and others had the chance to audition even if they didn’t have a piece featured in the show.

McGee has experience bringing a production to life over Zoom. Shadow of the Run, the Northeast Ohio-based immersive theater company she co-founded, held its productions virtually over the last few months.

Holding a virtual production does have its limitations, McGee said. It lacks two key components of acting: the relationship among actors, and between actors and the audience. 

“These are really personal stories, and what actors do for a living is put their hearts on their sleeves. But it’s hard when you’re telling your own story to put your heart on your sleeve because it’s personal; it’s really personal, and you’re sharing it into the void,” McGee said. “You can’t even see your audience, and you can’t hear how they’re accepting your personal story. So those people who are interested in being actors are learning about how to share a story in a very personal and vulnerable way.”

McGee has coached the actors to approach the topics in a straightforward manner, describing without denial what happened and how it made them feel. She hopes this will lead to audience members in their own experiences during the pandemic.

“I’m hoping we’re telling a story that will give people solace in their own feelings and maybe a little hope in the resilience of young people,” she said.

McGee advised that the production includes strong language and adult themes. 

The show is free, but online registration is required. Audience members can support the theater program by making a donation when registering.