COVID-19 forced all classes and shows to be put on a hold in the middle of the Spring 2020 semester. How has Texas State Theatre and Dance continued to thrive?
SAN MARCOS, TX — The Coronavirus pandemic changed many things for college students across the U.S. However, Texas State officials believe their approach to COVID-19 has been a great success. With a campus-wide contact tracing program, mask mandate, decrease in face-to-face classes, free testing provided on campus, and social distancing in classes, Texas State University in San Marcos, TX, the spread has been mostly controlled on campus.
However, some departments are doing better than others with the transition to the all-online format. Classes like math, English, and even biology labs can be taken online, but how do classes like theatre continue their education? Furthermore, how do they continue to earn funding and revenue from shows if they can’t perform or rehearse in person?
According to Robert Styers, the Box Office Manager of the Texas State Presents Team, the pandemic has made all classes, performances, and most rehearsals take place online. Styers presents the data behind the affect COVID-19 has had on ticket sales and revenue from the last year.
Styer’s numbers portray that ticket sales and revenue went down 38.7% right after the university decided to move classes online in the spring of 2020. In comparison, the department also lost 42.2% of revenue by the end of the semester.
The Theatre department was in route to matching their record-breaking, previous year of 2019-2020. However, they ended up losing 89% of total sales and revenue when comparing the numbers from the calendar years 2019 and 2020. There is a huge connection between Texas State Theatre’s loss of sales and the start of the pandemic.
So, what does the department do in order to save the experience for their students? Marisa Mendoza, a sophomore double majoring in acting and digital media innovation, said “In the spring of 2020 it was really disappointing when school went all online because there were still 2 shows left in the season and they were just cancelled. That was really sad to hear because they were two of the bigger shows that year. The shows were the musical Guys and Dolls and a movement-based show called The Other Shore.”
At the beginning of the pandemic and lockdown, now-alumnus Chris Frost, was extremely sad to hear that they wouldn’t be able to close out their last show. “Graduating during a pandemic has to be the most inconvenient thing about my college experience. However, I’m super happy and lucky that my family and friends are safe and healthy.”
Mendoza says that at the beginning of the spring semester things were going great in the department, and when COVID-19 shut all classes down it was really disappointing for her. Although, she says she got slightly lucky because her last show that semester had already closed the day before spring break. The campus shut down shortly thereafter.
“Over the summer, the faculty went to work trying to find another way for us to still get the education and experience we needed without putting us and others in danger. That’s when they came up with the idea of virtual shows.”
Texas State Theatre has put out multiple virtual and pre-recorded shows this semester so far, and they plan on doing even more according to Mendoza.
Along with virtual shows, the students of the department had another hurdle to jump. Not only were classes and shows online, but now auditions were either held over Zoom or self-taped. For some students this could be a challenge, especially if they have never worked with the technology needed to film an audition or complete an audition live.
“I was so glad they didn’t stop doing shows altogether. The faculty and directors have really been finding all these creative ways to work around live, in-person theatre,” she said.
Although the ticket sales and revenue may look discouraging, the theatre department is always working and looking for new ways to give their students the experience in shows that they need.
For example, the department hosted a plethora of Zoom play readings, Zoom showcases, Zoom open auditions, and many other new activities. Jerry Ruíz, the head of directing, experimented with the radio play style. He directed a show this semester called “Red Bike.” He produced a radio play version and a taped-staged version.
Another creative production this semester was “LoveWave,” directed by Neil Patrick Stewart, the head of the acting program. He did a lot on Instagram with sketch-comedy posts in order to engage audiences in ways the department has never tried before.
Texas State’s coronavirus safety measures have not let up, and the university is on track and hopeful for returning to campus at the earliest next fall. However, in the wake of chaos and new territory, the Texas State Theatre Department broke through and created new ways to promote and showcase their talented students and faculty.