By Emma Shuford ‘22. Arts Editor
Theater performances worldwide have been greatly hindered by the COVID-19 pandemic as socially distancing in theaters, for both actors and audiences, is difficult or impossible to accomplish. Mercersburg Academy’s theater group, the Stony Batter Players, have to wrestle with these same complications. While the fall plays will look vastly different from previous years, the directors have decided on formats that allow for interesting opportunities both for the actors and the audience.
Matt Maurer, a member of the theater faculty, is directing Dracula!, a play based on the novel written by Bram Stoker. The production will be a visual radio play; it will be recorded on stage in the Burgin Center for the Arts. The radio play will allow the cast and tech crew to experiment with elements that are not a part of in person productions. Maurer said, “Our crew and cast will be making all of the sound effects in the show with their own hands and various devices.” The play will most likely be available on Mercersburg Academy’s YouTube channel from October 30 to November 1.
Kelly Dowling, the Assistant Director of the Burgin Center for the Arts, will be directing an entirely virtual play. This play will incorporate all Stony Batter actors learning virtually this fall, as well as some students on campus. The actors have a choice to perform in one of the plays. Dowling’s production will be the only live play this fall. The audience will be able to join the performance using a Zoom link, and some will even be able to interact with the actors during the course of the play. After the two live performances on November 13 and 14 at 10:00am, a recording of the production will also be available on Mercersburg’s YouTube channel. Dowling said, “I am particularly interested in how virtual theatre like this can provide unique experiences to audiences and ensembles. Our cast and crew will be in 5 different countries and our audiences can join us from anywhere. This form captures the energy of a live show while removing the obstacles of access and price that often keep people (especially families) from experiencing live theatre.”
Many actors are excited about the opportunities for growth that the shows present. Charlotte Stauffer ’22, a cast member of Dracula!, said, “Personally I am very excited to have the format of the plays be digital so it’s easier than ever to experience the productions. Through the medium of computers tech crew has many more possibilities; acting through the screen in one of our plays this year presents a new way to deliver lines.” Frances Elwood ’23, a member of the virtual production’s cast, is learning virtually this fall. Elwood said, “In all honesty I’m not sure what can be done with the medium but I’m excited to find out.” Another member of the virtual production, Langley Owen ’24, said, “Doing a virtual production will allow us to try new things on Zoom like visual effects and playing multiple characters.”
The tech crew is always a vital part of Stony Batter plays. Jessica Doubell, the Technical Director of the Burgin Center for the Arts, is in charge of the technical aspects for the fall productions. Doubell said, “Some of the new opportunities for the tech crew in this format are sound design, building for a smaller scale, and creating practical props from scratch. We are going to be doing live sound effects for Mr. Maurer’s play, Dracula!” Tech crew’s role in producing the shows will consist of widely different tasks. For example, they will be creating all of the instruments used for the live sound effects. Doubell said, “We will be making a wind machine and a rain machine. We have to research and design a way to make the sound of wolves. It is our job to make the audience believe that there is a bat at the sanitarium window and convince them they actually hear characters walking into and out of rooms in Dracula!”
Tech crew member Ellie Miller ’23 said, “I think this fall will be a great learning experience that will help widen and improve our skills. I am really looking forward to finding creative ways to do the sound effects in Dracula.” Dan Zagorii ’23 is the lead cinematographer and editor for all of the fall plays. Zagorii said, “My role is to film everything that is going to happen within the performing arts and then do all the editing of the film, so the files are going to be ready to upload into Mercersburg YouTube channel.” This new format allows students to explore many different areas of interest regarding film.
While performing is greatly restricted due to the coronavirus, the shows this fall have found a creative way to allow students to perform and explore other aspects of acting