Personal Reflections on Twelfth Night in a Pandemic

COVID-19 has put a full stop to the arts industry. Actors, musicians, technicians, arts administrators and so many other people are in a state of limbo.

Hope College was among the lucky few places that implemented safety protocols that allowed student and faculty artists to come together in these trying times to put on something magical. One of these spectacles was the theatre department’s outdoor and socially-distant production of William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.

I think it is a common misconception that theatre just happens. One day a group of actors show up to a performance and magically know all their lines and movements. A silver lining to the COVID-19 restrictions was that we could showcase our work from start to finish to the Hope College community. This meant students and faculty passing the entrance of the DeWitt Center witnessed every stumble and every triumph in the rehearsal process. Yet another silver lining was that this play was livestreamed! Not only could people watch it safely from their homes, but we reached an even greater audience than ever before.

“I also realized that connection can still happen at a six-foot radius …

and being closer to a scene partner now makes me feel like I must kiss or fight the person.”

As an actor in this production, I found getting to opening night a wonderful rollercoaster. I started my journey to become Viola last semester under the direction of Johamy Morales and was over the moon about being able to continue into this semester. I was skeptical at first about acting with the restrictions of being outdoors and with masks on, but I soon remembered that both of those are traditions of theatre. I also realized that connection can still happen at a six-foot radius, and being closer to a scene partner now makes me feel like I must kiss or fight the person. What may have seemed like disadvantages also turned into helpful tools, because we had our set on day one and the audience not being able to see our facial expressions made us actors use our physicality in ways we never had before.

However, working outside the DeWitt entrance is definitely more nerve-wracking than any other rehearsal process I’ve been a part of. I felt like I must be performing through every rehearsal as if it were the final product. My peers could see me crash and burn from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. four days a week with a special matinee on the weekends. Of course, these higher stakes in real life only added to the process because Shakespeare only wrote his characters in high-stakes situations. The public rehearsals also forced me to trust my choices as an actor more than ever. I wanted to turn the heads of the people walking to their dorms. If they didn’t, was I doing my job? Would I be able to keep our future audience engaged?

I am so thankful that we were able to continue Twelfth Night in person and that Hope College has been safe during this unprecedented situation. Working on a Shakespeare play is a beast, and I am so fortunate to have had the opportunity to play Viola and tackle this beautiful play in a way that very few people get to experience.