Theatre MSU adapts season to include COVID-19 safety measures

Contact: Sarah Nicholas

“The Commedia Robin Hood” by Lane Riosley promotional graphicSTARKVILLE, Miss.—Mississippi State’s Theatre MSU—the Department of Communication’s production division—debuts its new season this month with “The Commedia Robin Hood,” a Lane Riosley play with a twist on the original story of Robin Hood.

Presented in the commedia dell’arte form of improvisational theater that began in Italy in the 16th century, the play’s characters are portrayed as poor travelers who invent props from objects they discover as they fumble their way through the tale of Robin Hood.

“The Commedia Robin Hood” will be presented at the MSU Amphitheater Sept. 17 at 6 p.m. Additional presentations include 2 p.m. performances on Sept. 19 at JL King Park and Sept. 20 at McKee Park in Starkville. The outside venues incorporate safety regulations mandated by the university’s response to COVID-19.

Tickets are available at Payment options range from free, $2 or $5, in a “pay what you can” format. Ticket registration is required, even for free tickets. A strict audience limit of 100 people will be observed at each presentation.

The reduced ticket prices are available this year with support from the Lorena J. “Rockie” Smith Fund for the Performing Arts.

MSU juniors Taylor Barr, a business administration major minoring in communication/theatre from Marietta, Georgia, and Kathryn E. “Kat” Moore, a communication/theatre major from Minden, Louisiana, are co-directors for the commedia.

Moore describes the show as a “stylized version of theater—a fast-paced comedy that keeps you laughing through the whole story.”

“We are so excited for everyone to see the show,” said Moore, who admits working amid COVID restrictions has been “challenging.”

“But these challenges have only provided us with reasons to be even more creative. We definitely have some surprises in store for the show. I am very proud of the department’s willingness to continue to provide us—the students and the community—with another season,” she said.

Melanie Harris, MSU theatre instructor and costume director said the program is completely student-produced.

“The students didn’t want to give up on our season so we asked them to bring us ideas. They came up with the idea to perform outside, and we are so excited to make it work.”

The outdoor venues will include buffer zones between the actors and the audience, taped off areas for each family—in accordance with social distance mandates—and no interactions between performers and the audience after the shows.

Accessibility and safety are the main areas of concentration this year, Harris said.

“Commedia is a historical theater style that was always performed in masks. We have taken that a step further and built COVID-19 masks into the inside of the traditional commedia masks,” said Harris. “All attendees will be required to wear masks and we have even worked in jokes about social distancing and hand sanitizer.”

Harris said two actors were cast for each role so “if an actor of one cast has to quarantine, we can use the corresponding actor from another cast.”

Additional safety measures include rehearsing at a six feet distance while wearing masks and gloves. All actors are required use the Everbridge app to monitor their health, and all production participants have their temperatures taken and recorded at each rehearsal. Props and other surfaces that actors touch are sanitized between uses to prevent cross contamination.

Joining Harris as Theatre MSU advisors include new MSU faculty members Tonya Hays, an assistant professor in the communication department who advises the directors, and Matthew Webb, and assistant clinical professor in the communication department who advises the scenic designers.

After the September presentations of  “Commedia Robin Hood,” Theatre MSU plans to present Janet Langhart Cohen’s play “Anne and Emmett” in October.

MSU’s Department of Communication is available online at Follow Theatre MSU on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @TheatreMSU.

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