by Miguel A. Gastelum
Theatre is a unique art form in that it only exists at the moment it is being created. No other art form relies so heavily on the audience. A single person or multiple people can view paintings, but the impact of the piece remains the same because it is a tangible art piece. But theatre is a living, breathing art form, and the audience is a crucial ingredient in the recipe for creation. Actors respond to the energy they receive from the audience; audience responses (claps, cheers, gasps, etc.) all shape the structure of a play’s dialogue and pacing. No two performances are ever the same. And that’s the “theatre magic” that many Fresno State Theatre and Dance students had been missing.
When the Fresno State campus shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, the Department of Theatre and Dance was forced to cancel all of its remaining productions for the academic year. All of the productions were in the midst of rehearsal- one production was two nights from opening- and never had the opportunity to play before an audience. When the department realized that the shutdown would last much longer than anticipated, a plan was made to offer a virtual season.
The virtual season consisted of six productions that were streamed online. While the students were grateful for the opportunity to hone their acting skills and acquire new filmmaking skills, they still missed the energy and excitement of live theatre.
“I was so glad to be able to work on a virtual production and learn about filmmaking,” says Cassidy LeClair, a senior Theatre Arts student. “But I definitely missed having my friends and family in the audience. I missed being able to hear my mom’s laugh in the crowd as I delivered a funny line. I missed hearing the audience’s reaction to the plot twist of a show. While what we were doing was definitely theatre adjacent, it was not the type of theatre I had grown to love.”
Fortunately for the Department of Theatre and Dance students, live theatre has returned to the stages of Fresno State. The department is producing an entire six-show mainstage season, including four Fresno premieres, a dance concert, and a musical.
Some students have already had the opportunity to perform for a live audience, and they could not be more thrilled.
“Performing for live audiences is liberating and makes me reminiscent of the past and hopeful for the future,” says Isabella O’Keeffe, a junior Theatre Arts major. “We can take a break from this world and collectively experience the story we are telling and the world of the characters we are portraying.”
While the attendance to productions has not been the same as it was pre-pandemic, audiences are still enthusiastic and eager to watch Fresno State students tread the boards again. And that enthusiasm is reciprocated by student actors.
“I’m most looking forward to the interaction between audiences and performers. I feel that live theatre is important in creating that intimacy with the audience, and physically seeing shows really helps create that bond. Through live performances, I think that we can all develop stronger connections, not just to the story, but also its characters,” said Kathryn Andres, a nursing student performing in the upcoming production of “This Is Our Youth.”
For certain, the return of live theatre has created a sense of normalcy amongst Theatre and Dance students, and they are certainly grateful for that.