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The Drama Department Faces Challenges Producing Clark’s First Virtual Play

Graphic by Mary Guevara

Clark’s drama department is producing its first virtual play “The Churning Skies,” which premiers on April 10. Seven Clark performers, stage management, a costume designer and professor Gene Biby have collaborated virtually to put together the show online. 

“The Churning Skies” is based on radio shows in the 1940s, where each week a new segment of a story is told. Clark’s cast acts as behind-the-scenes professionals who put the radio show on-air. Throughout the play, there are scripted complications due to tensions between people on set.

Biby, theatre professor and director of “The Churning Skies,” said that they have faced multiple challenges while producing the virtual play. 

 One challenge is coordinating schedules to rehearse. Biby said that when the program was in-person, performers would show up to the theatre every evening for rehearsals. Now, people work at their own pace which makes scheduling difficult. Despite this, the cast has found time to rehearse every Saturday morning over Zoom. 

Another challenge is the technical aspect of the show. Biby wants everyone to look uniform with the same lighting and audio quality. If a performer lags and talks over someone else, it throws off the fluidity of the show.  

“I think it’s really difficult to try to find something that will work in this kind of [virtual] format,” Biby said. “I had directed this show years ago and a really good friend of mine had written it. I thought it might work since it’s a radio format originally.” 

Brenden Kinnee in “A Bright New Boise.” Photo courtesy of Clark College.

Biby said that he hand-selected current and former Clark students that he has worked with previously. Half of the cast are current students while the other half are former students. 

Nineteen-year-old current Clark student Brenden Kinnee is performing as an announcer in the play. He performed in his high school’s drama program for four years and has been a member of Clark’s drama department for almost two years.  Kinnee performed in Clark’s fall play, “A Bright New Boise” and worked tech backstage for the winter play, “bare: A Pop Opera.” 

He said that virtual rehearsals don’t feel different since the cast is very efficient. However, he prefers in-person rehearsals where he can see the rest of the cast and practice on stage. 

“Now, the acting is all through your facial expressions and how you say things,” Kinnee said. “It’s less acting with your body since the audience only sees your upper half.”  

Patricia Tipton, a 2017 Clark graduate who plays the director of the radio show, said that this play is fitting for the world’s current situation due to the pandemic. In the 1940s, shows occurred over the radio instead of in-person. Now, they can occur over Zoom. 

Patricia Tipton (right) in “Proof.” Photo courtesy of Clark College.

“The story itself really plays into what’s going on now, [which is] not being able to be in a room with each other,” Tipton said. “We’re going back in time, essentially.”

The play requires costumes and props, so Biby, along with the scene shop foreman and the student costume designer, will either hand-deliver or meet-up with performers to distribute these necessities. The cast will have their costumes and props inside their homes during the livestream. 

Biby and the drama department plan on live-streaming the show on the evening of April 10. Admission is free to the public and a recording of the event will be uploaded online a week later. The livestream platform and location are yet to be announced. 

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