By Bekah Stranger
Although every department at Malone has experienced a lot of changes during the past few months, few have faced as much as the theater department, as theater is a particularly difficult field to adapt to a COVID-19 world. Almost every element of the typical theater performance violates the new safety rules: facial expressions are largely obscured by masks, as is vocal projection. Neither actors nor audience members usually practice social distancing. Most shows require multiple actors and stage crew members to handle the same props and costumes within seconds of each other. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, however, everyone involved in the theater program knew that the 2020-2021 school year would be a year of transition. Due to faculty cuts, the theater program was placed in new hands following the conclusion of the spring semester. Craig Joseph, new theater director in residence, has led the department into the new territory that is theater amidst a pandemic. His first major production here will be “Animal Farm,” a play based on the classic book by George Orwell. Joseph’s journey with “Animal Farm” started when he learned that 2020 is the 75th anniversary of Orwell’s great novel. When he found out that he was going to be Malone’s theater director this year, he decided to look for reader’s theater pieces that could be powerful, but still allow students to maintain social distance. “[I was surprised by] how compelling a read it still is,” Joseph said, since he had not read the book since high school. The script’s political relevance finally pushed him to choose “Animal Farm” for this semester’s production. Joseph’s personal network of connections also encouraged partnership between Malone University, Stark Library, and Translations Art Gallery, which took the form of creating a series of events celebrating the novel’s contributions and the contributions of current artists. Due to these influences, this production is set to be markedly different from any production Malone has created in years past. The first major difference is that this project is going to be filmed on a North Canton farm, and not performed in front of a live audience on campus. The presence of a camera requires a different skill set from actors. While this is no problem for experienced film actors like Keon Dalziel, junior music major, and Christian Sanko, senior communication arts major, they both also admit that the differences between film and live acting are many. “Focus and attention has to be drawn solely from the scene, character interaction, and other actors,” Sanko said. Live shows allow an actor to feed off of the energy of the audience as well. “[In film] we do not accommodate the audience interaction, such as laughter, clapping, etc.,” Dalziel said. This not only governs the pause typically left between lines in a stage performance, but also allows actors to get in-themoment feedback about how an audience is feeling about the show. Another difference between “Animal Farm” and many of Malone’s past performances has to do with costuming. “We’re… keeping costuming minimal so that the main focus of the production is the words,” said Emma Wisman, sophomore biochemistry major. These minimal costumes involve pieces that are a lot simpler than they were for last year’s fall musical, “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change.” “We decided to go the extra step… and make this whole show completely memorized,” said Dalziel. The combination of social distancing and sitting on stools the entire time removes a lot of the tools actors typically use to convey emotion and character. “I’ve always been a very physical actor, so I’ve had to draw on a lot of other acting resources,” Sanko said. Finally, “Animal Farm” is unique because of the amount of people that have been involved in the process. While the show involves a smaller cast than many other full productions, the creators involved range far beyond the cast itself. Sanko is excited that the work of over 50 artists will be dispersed throughout the show. “This is a great blend of multimedia artwork, which is going to shape what theater looks like through this pandemic,” Sanko said. “What I’m most excited for people to see… is the new ideas [brought] to the script,” Dalziel said. He is also excited for people to enjoy the scenery of the North Canton farm where they will be filming. “I’m most excited for people to see the production as a whole…[There are] things that happen in the first act that are echoed in the second,” Wiseman said. “I’m most excited for audiences to see the amazing work that’s being done by the students and by the visual artists,” Joseph said. Joseph is also proud of the visual and performing artists who remind us that obstacles do not have to prevent great art from happening. Quoting Joseph, Sanko summarized the tone of the theater community right now. “Theater’s been dying for thousands of years. I’m not worried about it going away.” Sanko said. Tickets for “Animal Farm” are available on the Eventbrite website, with more information at http://www.animalfarm2020.com.