From stage to screen; the Department of Theatre and Dance goes virtual

Darkside (logo) a virtual multimedia theatre experience.

“Darkside” will stream November 6 – 14, 2020. You can purchase tickets here.

By Miguel A. Gastelum

When Governor Newsom issued the stay-at-home order on March 19th, many expected that it would only last two weeks at most. Seven months later and the COVID-19 pandemic seems to show no signs of slowing down. With very short notice, the Department of Theatre and Dance has had to adapt its traditional theatre producing techniques to fit into a COVID world. 

“Darkside” is the Department of Theatre and Dance’s first attempt at producing virtual theatre. Director Kathleen McKinley has sought out the Department of Media, Communications and Journalism’s video expertise, and specifically Profesor Candace Egan, to turn this “virtual multimedia theatre experience” into a reality. 

“As the shutdown intensified, it became clear that nothing about my production plans—the play title, the theatre venue, the audience, the student actors, the production schedule—would be business as usual! First, and lucky for me, I appealed to Candace, who committed her video expertise. I decided that a live-action radio script would provide the most flexibility in terms of the acting, staging and design protocols that were still very much up in the air,” said McKinley. 

Due to the pandemic, the Henry Madden Library had obtained a subscription to Drama Online. It was there that McKinley discovered the obscure and relatively unknown Tom Stoppard radio play, “Darkside,” which had been produced in conjunction with the BBC in 2013

“The transcript did not arrive in our department until mid-summer, but I sought out the broadcast and felt, reimagined as a live-action video, the show would be perfect and worthy for the first, pandemic era University Theatre production,” said McKinley. “The story focuses on a college student embarking on a surrealistic, dream-like journey to find within herself the answer, saving humanity from destruction and even features an action hero philosophy professor, scarily relevant!” 

McKinley and Egan have worked together on projects in the past, but this was the first time they worked together as a collaborative creative team, with Egan having input on how the finished product would be presented. 

“We started brainstorming ideas in April,” said Egan. “By the end of the semester, we knew we were going to collaborate on the project from the very beginning of the process. Kathleen found an idea that served as our visual inspiration. And then, together, we created a detailed storyboard of how we wanted to layout each shot for each scene.”

Hours upon hours were spent planning via Zoom over the summer, quite unusual for both professors. The preparation work paid off as they headed into filming under unique circumstances but with a clear and efficient filming plan in place. Strict Federal, State, and University protocols were enforced to ensure a safe, clean, and socially-distant rehearsal environment. 

“I needed to imagine a style that could exist in a space where actors could not touch or even come close to each other,” said McKinley. “Where props, mics, costumes could not be handled by the crew. Where there were no protocols to build elaborate sets and costumes. My concept was to combine elements of live, actor focused radio theatre with video and graphic novel background illustrations. This style allowed me to rehearse and film the actors, face-to-face, with the least amount of risk, the fewest number of personnel in the space at one time, and in half the time of a usual production. The editing, sound effects, illustrations, and animation would be layered in during post-production.”

Fresno State student Joshua Clark will be having his theatrical debut with “Darkside.” The bold commitment to safety by the Department of Theatre and Dance and the development of McKinley’s vision did not go unnoticed. 

“I’m profoundly appreciative and impressed with how careful our cast and crew are being in regards to COVID,” said Clark. “Crafting theatre during a pandemic isn’t particularly ideal, but despite this challenge we’ve managed to develop new, intricate, thoughtful methods of realizing our vision. To me, our collective effort to create against such adversity represents the endurance of the human spirit to collect, generate, and share stories with each other.”

While a majority of Universities across the country have shifted to remote and digitally produced theatre, Fresno State’s Theatre and Dance Department is one of the few taking bold steps to produce and develop a new form of theatrical presentation. 

“We have the opportunity of showing everyone a way of coming together to make theatre,” says McKinley. “In a way, we’re all pioneers. We have to take that really seriously. We’re going to show it can work. It’s a really big responsibility, but it’s one all of us chose.”
“Darkside” will stream November 6 – 14, 2020. You can purchase tickets here.

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The College of Arts and Humanities provides a diverse student population with the communication skills, humanistic values and cultural awareness that form the foundation of scholarship. The college offers intellectual and artistic programs that engage students and faculty and the community in collaboration, dialog and discovery. These programs help preserve, illuminate and nourish the arts and humanities for the campus and for the wider community.

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