It'll be an unconventional school year for students enrolled in the Bachelor of Fine Arts acting program at the University of Windsor as University Players will be taking its season online.
The university's theatre department is partnering up with Outside the March, a Toronto-based theatre company and four Canadian playwrights — Karen Hines, Marcus Youssef, David Yee and Elena Belyea — to create four brand-new plays which will be performed over Zoom.
"The theatre industry is changing right now," said Kristen Siapas, the marketing and public relations coordinator for the School of Dramatic Art and University Players at the university.
"There's a lot of limitations on the theater industry. And right now, here at the university, we've got limitations on our sizes of groups and we're pivoting to a digital season for university players for the fall."
This is both exciting and nerve-wracking for fourth year BFA acting student Elena Reyes, who will be acting in one of the plays.
"It's something we've never done before. And I think it's a challenge that's very important to take on in the world right now," she said.
"Everything is so uncertain in the theatre world and being able to learn and grow and adapt continuously every day and be a part of that is so crucial to where we will be after school."
Sébastien Heins, who will be directing one of the plays and working with the Windsor students from Toronto, said it's exciting to see theatre being performed on a new stage — a digital one.
"It's a new platform, but the liveness of it will still be there and the crackling nature of that back and forth will still be alive," he said.
"I think that you're going to come and you're going to be pleasantly surprised at what is possible within this digital medium," he said.
"Keep an open mind because there are exciting stories to tell no matter what stage they're on."
The pieces will be based on the case, which Heins said is "deeply empowering."
"You get to have the first crack ever at a character and you feel like there's a little piece of you inside that script. The exciting thing is that if that script then goes on and other people end up doing it in other contexts, you always know that part of your DNA is in the character," he said.
"It's not like Shakespeare where, you know, there's 400 years of stars who have played every one of these characters and it's more difficult to put your stamp on it. For these young actors, they get to just go through the process of making this show. We'll get to put their stamp on these characters for the first time."
Reyes said the plays will touch on themes that are relevant to the world today, including COVID-19, Black Lives Matter and other social justice issues, which she says is something her dramatic arts club aims to work on.
"Being able to be a part of that change, not only in council, in our student experience, in an education system, as artists as well. And joining forces is really valuable and will give us opportunities to be a voice in this change and contribute to what's happening today," she said.
Performing in real time
Although the process of buying an online ticket will be the same, audiences will be sent a link to the Zoom presentation instead of a ticket. Performances will be presented live over the course of two weekends in November.
"As theatre artists, everybody is learning to innovate and to adapt to the challenges in the industry and we're going right along with that," Siapas said.
"I don't want people to think of it as a theatre performance that's being presented in a video space. These are specifically being written for Zoom and they're using the Zoom platform as a part of that story," she said, adding that actors could share their screen and display their Instagram or TikTok feeds and instant messaging chats to audiences, as well as use green screens and virtual backgrounds.
Siapas said actors will be performing in real time "like a live performance."
"It brings together all of these incredible visual and creative elements to perform something that has never been created before. And I think that's the most interesting part of this story for us, for the School of Dramatic Art, for the students and University Players."