Keene State College’s Theater and Dance Department is bringing Samuel Beckett’s 1960s-era play “Happy Days” to the Wright Theater. Although live theater has been put on pause due to COVID-19, the cast and crew have found a way to bring the show to the stage.
In order to do so, decisions had to be made to ensure everything happens safely and in accordance to COVID-19 guidelines. The initial step, specifically regarding social distancing, came during the process of show selection. The work was selected specifically due to the fact that distancing is written into the script, according to Director Jeannie-Marie Brown.
“The characters are always eight feet apart, so the guideline that has us social[ly] distancing right now is built into the script. That was incredibly helpful and a very specific choice,” said Brown. In terms of set design, the creative team came up with unique solutions to accommodate social distancing guidelines. First, the set had to be designed in a way that could be seen through Zoom, since the event will be livestreamed for those outside the college community who wish to attend. However, set designer Celine Perron does not see this as a disadvantage.
“Zoom allows everyone to be together, so there’s disadvantages and advantages. So, I think [COVID-19] changed the communication and maybe made the process a little more complicated,” said Perron. Additionally, Perron said the orchestra will not be used for seating. Rather, part of the set will be placed in the orchestra to provide a natural barrier between the actors and the audience.
“We’re not using the orchestra where, normally, people would be close, so that there’s an extra barrier. I used the orchestra as a place for scenic elements, so there’s going to be part of the set that will trickle into the orchestra,” said Perron.
Mask requirements would seemingly make performing more difficult, particularly with the way it can sometimes mumble speech. However, the cast and crew have found ways to pass through those obstacles and produce art on the other side.
“We’re accommodating the guidelines that are necessary due to COVID, but turning a problem into a solution,” said Brown.
“As much as it was another hurdle to jump over, I also think that I was really surprised with how much we can gauge the acting. Because you’d think the mask would hinder it so much, but I think everything is still eyes and up, and you can understand more than you think you would,” said Assistant Director Jean-Michael Pion.
Although they will not be wearing masks during the performance, the actors have been wearing them throughout the rehearsal process. Contrary to prior expectations, wearing masks during rehearsals has not been too much of a hindrance. In fact, it has helped the actors strengthen their abilities as actors.
“The mask forces you to emote more, it forces you to project, and it forces you to have that diction. And so, when you take it off, you naturally have this presence that you might not have had if you had if you hadn’t been working so hard to have those things with the mask on,” said Jaden Rogers., who plays Willie.
At the heart of “Happy Days” is the relationship between husband and wife, Winnie and Willie– played by KSC students Cassidy Doherty and Jaden Rogers.
Those involved believe that this piece can be reflective of the world we live in today. There are themes of resilience, finding value in the small things and remaining optimistic through tough times. All of this is shown through the character of Winnie.
“With this text, [Winnie] responds to the world in a way that is hopeful, regardless of the obstacles that are thrown in her way. She just keeps fighting, and she does that in a way that tries to be happy. She keeps on moving forward,” said Brown.
The cast and crew see great value and importance in the arts during these troubling times. This message extends not only important to those on stage, but also to audience members.
“Theatre brings people together from all over the world, and for a couple hours, you can forget about your troubles and just immerse yourself into the world of the story and be present in the moment,” said Doherty., who plays Winnie.
“All art, whether it’s painting, whether it’s live theater, film, whatever it may be, the arts most powerful asset is its ability to communicate and resonate with people,” said Rogers.
“Happy Days” opens on November 18 and runs through November 21 at the Redfern Arts Center. The event will be performed live in-person and broadcast via livestream, according to Brown. Keene State students and faculty with a wristband will be allowed entry with masks required.
Caitlin Howard can be contacted at: