GROVE CITY — It’s an anecdote like so many others, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t painful.
Betsy Craig was rehearsing a play to premiere at the J. Howard Pew Fine Arts Center at Grove City College when the COVID-19 pandemic began. The hard work from the cast and crew was all for naught.
Senior Joshua Wanek had only done small plays during his time in school. He had never performed on the main stage, the Ketler Auditorium. And he feared he never would.
“Art — live art, especially — music, theatre, it’s kind of died [and] just come to a stop once COVID started,” Wanek said.
But one year later, after a fall semester that featured virtual classes and rehearsals and recorded Shakespeare performances around campus but away from people, the doors to the auditorium will finally open. The college’s theatre program will perform three plays — Art by Yasmina Reza, and both A Walk in the Woods and Eleemosynary by Lee Blessing– for up to 275 people at a time, which is half capacity.
“We’re pretty excited,” said Betsy Craig, director of the theatre program. “We hope that people will want to come not just because of the plays themselves, of course I want that, but because they can come and see live theatre.”
As of the publication of this story, the people allowed to attend can only be students, faculty or staff from Grove City College, but the possibility of adding family of cast and crew is pending. Craig has committed to keep the attendees safe: Space is designated between seats in the auditorium, programs are only accessible through QR codes, and the venue is ventilated between plays.
The cast and crew have followed COVID protocols, too. Craig admits she will “lecture” every day for students to sanitize their hands, social distance and not go out to parties.
“I’ve had to put my social schedule a little bit on hold, which is kind of sad,” said Katarina Meikrantz, a senior actor in Eleemosynary. “It’s my last semester, so of course you wanna be like going out, and doing things with your friends… It’s complete, like lockdown mode.”
Sophomore actor Justin Folger from A Walk in the Woods said it has been a real challenge to act while social distancing. Monday was the first time he and his co-star, Meghan Walsh, were allowed on-stage without masks or shields, so he could finally react to the emotions on her face… one day before curtains up. But it was worth it, in his opinion, because if anybody gets sick, the show gets cancelled.
“Anybody who comes, even if it’s an audience of 15 people, I haven’t done anything for a year, so that’s still pretty awesome,” Folger said.
Wanek, another second-semester senior who is acting in Art, said he has been frustrated with the restrictions as well. But he would rather sacrifice a little bit to get his chance to finally perform on the main stage.
“Getting that opportunity, especially when it seemed like I wasn’t going to before I graduated, it was relieving,” Wanek said. “I’m a little nervous, as you’d expect, but I’m excited to show everybody kind of what we’re working, and that theatre hasn’t died at Grove City.”
The performances will fall on a rotating schedule from Tuesday, March 16, to Thursday, March 18. Then, all three plays will perform back-to-back-to-back on Friday and Saturday.