“Calvin in the Time of COVID” takes theatre outdoors and on the move

Actors+from+the+skit+%22Escalation%22+pose+with+their+director+on+their+%27stage%27+outside+Hiemenga+Hall.

Lisa Meyer

Actors from the skit “Escalation” pose with their director on their ‘stage’ outside Hiemenga Hall.

Calvin Theatre Company gave the first performances of their fall show, “Calvin in the Time of COVID,” all across campus on Saturday.

Undeterred by COVID-19, performers in the nearly hour-long production were stationed outdoors on walkways and lawns while hosts led audience members between scenes. Each scene was complete with its own set of student directors, actors, and writers, creating a series of standalone skits.

“The idea is to look at the situation we’re in with the pandemic, realize how absurd it is, and allow ourselves to laugh a little,” said Jo Newton, the stage manager overseeing the production as a whole. “Calvin is a niche community anyway, full of its own inside jokes, and embracing the humor we’ve developed around the pandemic is healthy.”

Tickets to the free event’s first weekend were completely booked, and showgoers were impressed by CTC’s work.

“This performance still displays the tenacity and creativity of Calvin students to perform art that blesses,” said audience member Matthew Chandra. “Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed it.”

Chandra said he most appreciated actors’ abilities to work around having few props and the prominent student involvement evident in every phase of the show.

“The bite-sized plays allowed for this kind of ‘theatre-tour’ to work quite well, and I would love to see such a format be experimented with more,” Chandra said of the roving design.

Megan Guinter, who worked as a host leading groups between scenes, commented on how perfectly campus locations like DeVries Hall patio’s multiple levels were able to match with what the scripts required.

While Newton admitted that the experience of rehearsing for a roving and socially distant production was quite different from any of the other shows they’ve participated in at Calvin, they said it was no more difficult to produce.

“Every show has its own challenges, and I personally didn’t find [“Calvin in the Time of COVID”] to be harder than putting on a show in a normal semester when all things are considered,” said Newton.

The biggest challenges they listed for this fall’s production were scheduling rehearsals with limited capacity in the Gezon Auditorium and working to construct sets with COVID restrictions in place.

Actors had to overcome a wholly different set of difficulties.

“Nothing compares to the energy that is shared between performers and the audience in live theatre, and that energy is simply not the same when there are only ten audience members and we can’t hear any laughter due to masks,” said Emily Haan, who played the part of a dejected Calvin student in the scene “Shakespeare’s Guide to the Pandemic.”

In the sketch, Haan’s character is discouraged by the effects of the pandemic when suddenly, William Shakespeare appears and brings her on a tour of famous characters to lift her spirits.

Themes of Shakespeare are sprinkled throughout the production, which opens and closes with monologues from “The Tempest,” the show CTC had originally planned to perform this fall after its spring cancellation. Due to a lack of time and space for such a massive undertaking, Newton said the minimalist “Calvin in the Time of COVID” was born.

“The situation that the coronavirus put us in could have devastated our company’s artistic capabilities, but instead ultimately revealed who our company is – a community of students who willingly devote their talent to make live theatre happen on-campus despite the circumstances,” said Annika Chrusciel, a freshman and member of the CTC board who acted in a scene written by Haan.

“Calvin in the Time of COVID” will give its final showings on Saturday, Oct. 31, with group tours departing every half hour from 1:00-3:30 p.m.