The resilience of Plymouth State University has been on display many times throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The theatre program’s creation of the SilverStar Voyages is among the innovative ways that students and faculty have adapted by creating new learning opportunities.
Instead of staging a traditional play, Director of Theatre Paul Mroczka had his playwriting class invent a television show to be posted online, which would facilitate masks and possible student quarantines. The SilverStar Voyages, an outer space science fiction series, is what they came up with. Each character’s costume includes a clear, futuristic face covering that doubles as COVID-19 protection and fictional space mask. Video monitors are also heavily woven into each scene, with students acting on screens via Zoom or a projection, and often having green screens behind them for post-production editing.
These adaptations and careful planning paid off when both an actor and director had to quarantine in real life during the production. For one session, Mroczka directed from his laptop, which was placed in front of the monitor that displayed what was being filmed while he communicated via a Bluetooth headset with the assistant director. “It was weird to not be in touch with everyone,” says Mroczka. “Directing worked out, but it was not as smooth as if I were right there. It was odd.” When one of the actors had to quarantine, he provided his lines virtually and was seamlessly woven into the production’s dialogue.
Theatre student Mikayla Caterino ’21 was grateful for this different yet in-person approach. “We did very well. In-person lessons, rehearsals, and performances were allowed as long as masks, distancing, testing, and time limits were followed. It wasn’t the same, but we are all thankful to have the opportunity to learn and perform as we try to get back to normal.”
Flexibility was key during this unique time for theatre, and Matthew Kizer, professor of theatre and theatre design and technology, applauded the students’ adaptability and perseverance. In addition to COVID-19 adjustments, the shorter semester meant an abbreviated rehearsal process, requiring students to put in a lot of hours in a quick timeframe. “The actors are real troopers,” he says. “Everybody was super-efficient and they asked all the right questions. I was really proud of them and they rose to the occasion just right.”
“The students were really dedicated,” adds Mroczka. “Every group hit their deadline, which really impressed me. I’ve never had that happen before.”
Kizer loves traditional shows but would also like to see more television style productions in the future. “I’ve always wanted to do a television show anyway…everybody watches Netflix.”
“I think it’s important that the students write for different mediums,” agrees Mroczka.
PSU has done a better job continuing theatre during the pandemic than many other universities, according to Kizer. He attributes this to PSU’s testing standards, which allow the actors to congregate safely with masks. Plus, the University System of New Hampshire (USNH) granted each of its institutions a set of computer-controlled cameras equivalent to a basic television studio. This strategy allowed the creation of unique and creative shows like the SilverStar Voyages. It also exemplifies how PSU and USNH are prioritizing their students and keeping them engaged in artistic ventures. “We have been very lucky to continue having opportunities despite this pandemic,” says theatre arts major Kyle Sidders ’23, citing still being able to work on four shows in just one semester.
Kizer and Mroczka emphasized that a lot of institutions have not been continuing in-person theatre during the pandemic and how keeping up productions has been an incredible advantage for PSU students. And now, many of them have a television series for their résumé, which will help them in the future. It also gave students like Caterino an opportunity to direct a show. “It was amazing to see all my original ideas and thoughts come together,” she says. “It was cool to be able to make something completely original with the creative team. Now that I have a stronger understanding of these aspects, I hope it will be something I can explore more in the future.”
To see the final product of the hard work of actors, directors, and the technical team, head to YouTube to watch the complete five-episode series.