UIS Theatre: Embracing the Unconventional

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The UIS Theatre has been a staple of campus culture for many years, offering colorful and engaging performances to students of all backgrounds. Despite the recent changes to the ways many UIS organizations can function during the pandemic, UIS Theatre has persisted in its mission to offer students a form of safe entertainment during this challenging time. Professor and Director of Theatre, Eric Thibodeaux-Thompson’s fall production of Rouges’ Gallery is set to hit the stage in November with a primary focus on safety for its cast, crew and audience. However, it may look a little different than students are used to in its delivery.

Initially, Thibodeaux-Thompson and the theatre department’s selection committee – Professor Missy Thibodeaux-Thompson and Professor Dathan Powell – had decided on an entirely different play for the fall production, a new version of Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People. Thibodeaux-Thompson mentioned that a variety of different factors went into their decisions for both the fall and spring performances, often considering the department’s budget, their pool of students for casting and what audiences might want to see. Unfortunately, with the news of COVID-19 precautions following the university into its fall semester, it was clear that the selection would no longer work in a distanced setting due to its focus on detailed scene work and close proximity between actors. The selection committee quickly pivoted and researched to find a play that would instead meet the safety needs of the cast and crew while also telling an exciting story for audiences.

Rouges’ Gallery by John Patrick Shanley seemed to be the perfect choice, due to the fact that it is a collection of 10 monologues that would require only one actor to be on stage at a time. Thibodeaux-Thompson mused that it “seemed to have built-in social distancing,” in addition to flexibility for a changing rehearsal and production schedule. The department was able to secure the rights to perform the play in a variety of ways, whether traditionally in front of an audience, livestreamed in real time or possibly pre-recorded and then made available online at a later date. The realistic plan, as of now, will either feature a livestreamed version or a pre-recorded version.

Despite the uncertainty surrounding the environment to which the show must adapt, Thibodeaux-Thompson was excited to share that the turnout rate for auditions was the biggest they had seen in the past couple of years. Students and community members were able to audition in-person with proper social distancing and masks, alternatively sending in online video submissions, depending on their preference. Thibodeaux-Thompson made sure to have an extensive safety plan in order for when the time for rehearsals and performances came, as well, noting that rehearsals will focus more on one-on-one direction for each actor and the utilization of masks at all times before opening night. In the event that COVID-19 could resurface again and prompt another lockdown, Thibodeaux-Thompson stated that they had an emergency plan in place to utilize Zoom and perform the scenes from actors’ homes, having bought green screens and additional equipment to accommodate this possibility. Actors cast in the play will also understudy for additional roles, in the event that another actor may become sick and need to be replaced.

Thibodeaux-Thompson gives a preview of the story itself, stating, “Rouges’ Gallery features 10 monologues…Each of them are their own separate short story, but they are loosely knit together, insofar as all 10 characters are in and around New York City. All of the stories are contemporary, but a few go back in time through the storytelling. So, it is a compilation of New York stories told by 10 characters on the fringe of society. Some are criminals and some are ostracized by society, but all are unique and unusual characters.”

For more information, please visit the UIS Theatre’s webpage at https://www.uis.edu/theatre/.