College of DuPage College Theater stages virtual production of 'A Christmas Carol' Nov. 27-29

  • The College of DuPage Theater will put on its annual Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" as a virtual performance Nov. 27-29.

    The College of DuPage Theater will put on its annual Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" as a virtual performance Nov. 27-29. Courtesy of College of DuPage

 
By Angela Mennecke
COD News Bureau
Updated 11/27/2020 7:32 PM

Under normal circumstances College of DuPage College Theater Professor Amelia Barrett would be spending fall semester in the classroom, at the McAninch Art Centers' Belushi Performance Hall and at the costume shop preparing for College Theater's annual Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" performance.

Tapping into her creative side, she adapted her entire production and on-stage holiday performance to Zoom.

 

"As a theater department it didn't even cross our mind to cancel our productions," Barrett said. "No matter the medium, we wanted to show students the real joy and excitement that producing theater creates. We are not trying to be perfect; we are trying to teach. It has been an important lesson in patience and what teaching really means."

Any actor will tell you that acting for the camera is not the same as acting on stage in front of a live audience. But then when you take those two different types of acting and blend them together, it's another form entirely, Barrett said.

"Acting for the camera is always more intimate," she said. "There is a heightened awareness that the viewer is three feet away instead of 30 feet away. This performance of €˜A Christmas Carol' isn't quite theater, but it isn't quite film either. We have been trying to find the balance. It is trial and error. We are learning from each other."

With only nine students cast in the production, students are playing multiple characters. Barrett said the decision to have a small cast was intentional.

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"Delivering this performance via Zoom has made it more intimate," she said. "Actors don't need to raise their voices. I want the camera to watch them discover something and let the audience see the story unfold by watching the actors' facial expressions, something audiences wouldn't normally be able to see from their seats in the auditorium."

COD theater student Tianna Maravilla, acting as stage manager and cast as Creakle and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, said performing on Zoom is something she would have never predicted when she decided she wanted to study theater. "A Christmas Carol" is Maravilla's third College Theater production.

"This has been a very strange medium for me to be comfortable with," she said. "I have never considered acting for the camera because I am so critical when it comes to watching my performances. However, Amelia has done such a wonderful job at making sure this is a natural blend of acting for the camera and acting as if we were back in the theater. As much as I wish that I and my castmates, and the production team could all be together in person, we're still developing characters and relationships, and having fun."

The student actors were supplied with costumes, wigs, facial hair and makeup with one-on-one virtual costume fittings and makeup tutorials with COD Performing Arts Makeup and Costume Coordinator Kim Morris.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Morris said she is doing her best to ensure the characters are brought to life through the screen.

"I never thought I would do virtual costume fittings, but this year has thrown a lot of firsts at us," she said. "Using the students' measurements and dress forms, we made sure that the clothes we pulled were repaired and altered to fit the actor without actually seeing them in person. Since the actors are playing multiple characters, the costume fittings and makeup tutorials have lasted up to an hour or two when they usually take 30 minutes."

Each actor also received a technology package to create a remote studio which included a green screen, microphone, camera and adjustable lighting.

The performance will be pre-recorded, a process that Barrett expects will take 10 days.

"We haven't started recording scenes yet, but it will be all hands on deck," she said. "The designers and I have had long discussions about how to film and in what order. Since, for example, we have one actor playing all the Cratchit children, we will film her with stand-ins in the Zoom boxes. Then she will make a costume change, re-do her makeup and we will film her in another role. It will be a marathon."

Despite the challenges, Barrett hopes the performance is another bridge of connection for the community during the national health crisis.

"Theater is still necessary. You need art. You need some happiness, and you need distractions from all that is going on," she said.

"A Christmas Carol," will premiere on Zoom at 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 27. Additional performances will be at 3 and 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 28-29.

Tickets, available through www.atthemac.org, are $16 per household. A streaming link will be sent to ticket holders after purchase.

There will be post-show discussions on Zoom with members of the production team Friday, Nov. 27 and with the director and actors Saturday, Nov. 28.

The cast for this year's production features Ameya Patankar (Naperville), Chris Talia (Carol Stream), Elizabeth Nahulak (Wheaton), Jack Knight (Elk Grove Village), Amy Invanger (West Chicago), Francesca Brummel (Lisle), Tiana Maravilla (Warrenville), Monica Patankar (Naperville) and Maya Kaempf (Winfield).

Support for College Theater is made possible by a generous gift from the College of DuPage Foundation's Dr. Donald and Helen (Gum) Westlake Fund for Student Productions.

For more information, visit College Theater at www.atthemac.org/events/a-christmas-carol/.

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