Performing Arts Students Adapt with Safer, Weirder Acting Methods

By Cassandra Castillo, Assistant Features Editor—

This semester, performers at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga have had to adapt their performances to keep actors and audience members safe from infection. 

As the theatre building was under construction for the much of the past year, actors grew accustomed to rehearsing in different areas across campus. This semester, however, they have had to adapt to new ways of acting entirely. Whether it means performing digitally or in person while standing six feet apart with facemasks, the UTC Theatre Company has devised some safe solutions. 

Sophomore Isaiah Owens is an actor at the Theatre Company.

“As a performer or a person in the performing arts, you have to be able to adapt,” Owens said.

The theatre department’s staff have created a plan designed to ensure the safety of performers taking theatre classes and all others in the UTC Theatre Company. 

Associate Head of Performing Arts Steve Ray also acts as the artistic director of the Theatre Company. 

“The theatre faculty and staff have put our heads together and developed some really innovative projects that keep students safe and still meet course and program objectives,” Ray said. 

According to Ray, students are able to perform, but not as they did before due to the concerns generated by the pandemic. They have had to come up with methods that follow safety guidelines on and off the stage. 

“The primary safety concerns with acting are the social distance between actors and the increased distance of the spread of aerosolized exhalations due to the fact that speaking on stage requires more force of air than normal speaking,” Ray said. “For our first production, we are performing an absurdist play, ‘The Bald Soprano,’ live, but none of the actors are speaking.”  

“We have physical actors acting out movements, and we got voice actors saying the lines in distinct voices,” Owens said about their first show. “The second show is the Greek classic ‘Antigone’ which will be streamed digitally in the near future, hopefully.” 

Their first performance, held in the Chamberlain Pavilion Sept. 19 and 20, was limited to 50 audience members. The show consisted of voice actors behind plexiglass doing the voices and sound effects for those on stage who were socially distanced and wearing masks.

“This has made for a fascinating performance,” Ray said. “I find myself forgetting that the actors aren’t actually speaking because my mind has been so conditioned not to see people’s lips move when they speak due to the masks.  Then I look to the side of the stage and see the voice actor and my brain freaks out—in a good way.” 

Their second act of the semester, set to premier in October, will be accessed digitally. For this “Antigone” performance, actors will be filmed individually to later be edited into one session. Ray, who is directing this unconventional rendition of the play, said that he believes these actors are learning valuable skills for the future with these two performances. It will allow the performers to develop film-acting techniques, voice acting skills, and physical theatre. 

“This semester, social distancing is a major gateway into the world of the unknown,” Owens said. “We all, especially me, miss having in-person courses all together, but we know it’s for the best. It’s a great testimony to our skills as artisans and performers.” 

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