ROCK SPRINGS — “Pirates of Penzance” has been on Stephen Cramer’s wishlist as a director for a while. He just didn’t expect to do it under these circumstances. But despite some changes and disappointments, Stephen is excited to share the latest Western Wyoming Community College Performing Arts’ production.
Western’s theater department was determined to share live productions this semester and overcome the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. Their first play, “Dancing at Lughnasa,” was shared both in-person — with safety precautions in place — and virtually through livestreams of each performance. The plan was to do the same with “Pirates of Penzance.”
However, since COVID-19 cases have been rising in Wyoming, Western recently decided to go into a more restricted phase of safety precautions. One of those precautions includes the rule that no more than 25 people can be in the theater at a time. Since the cast has 22 members, having a live audience wasn’t exactly feasible any longer.
But after working for 10 weeks on this production, no one was going to let “Pirates of Penzance” go without being shared.
The cast was still given the chance to perform the show four times. But instead of performing for an audience, they performed for three cameras. Those performances, which took place this week, were recorded. One final product will be edited together from the four performances and three camera angles. That full version of the show is what will be shared with the public through a Video on Demand format. The performance will be available starting Tuesday, Nov. 17.
Stephen, the assistant professor of musical theater at Western and director of “Pirates of Penzance,” admitted that not being able to perform in person is disappointing. He knows the students are disappointed, but he also pointed out that there are several advantages to doing things this way.
For one thing, cast members will be able to watch the final result, to see the whole show and to watch their own performances, which is helpful as an actor. This will also give them the opportunity to watch the show together with their families, even during Thanksgiving break, and to share the show with a wider audience, including family and friends that live out of town or out of state. Stephen also pointed out that filmed stage productions are becoming more common and popular in a general sense.
Performing the show in this format also creates new challenges for the students, Stephen said. Instead of playing to an audience, they have to play to cameras. The cast members will be wearing facial shields as part of the college’s COVID-19 precautions, so they need to be aware of how they hold their heads so the lights don’t reflect off the shields.
These new challenges come on top of the difficulties presented by this already challenging production.
“Pirates of Penzance” is a comic operetta first performed in 1879, so it’s a different kind of show than the students are used to, Stephen said. Making it happen has been a collaborative effort.
For one thing, the show involves a large cast, which required not only theater majors, but also Western students in other majors, high school students, and community members. According to Stephen, it took everyone to make it happen.
The show has also required collaboration with Western’s music department. Because the music is operatic, and is difficult both to learn and perform, it requires more trained singers.
“We have the voices for it,” Stephen said proudly.
Danielle Forbush, the adjunct instructor of music at Western, has been helping with the music and working with the ensemble, which includes several music majors. Some music majors are part of the main cast and will be seen on stage. Others will stay off-stage but lend their voices to several of the songs.
Despite all the challenges, Stephen is excited for this production. He’s been wanting to do a Gilbert and Sullivan show on Western’s stage ever since he came to work at the college, and “Pirates of Penzance” is one that means a lot to him. He’s been in two different productions of the show and directed it before.
“Introducing it to the students has been thrilling,” Stephen said.
Most of the students weren’t familiar with this show beforehand, Stephen explained, and watching them enjoy it was fun for him. He also told the students that they will most likely do this show again, so doing it now is a great start.
Stephen is also excited to share “Pirates of Penzance” with the community.
“It’s so silly and comic,” Stephen said with a laugh. “It lightens the mood.”
He thinks this will be a good show for people to watch right now to take their minds off things and provide some escapism. Watching the show will allow people to step away from their own lives, laugh, and enjoy the fun music and clever lyrics.
“I’m just proud of everybody,” Stephen said. “We’re keeping on, we’re getting the work done.”
Stephen credits Professor of Musical Theatre Eric-Richard de Lora and Associate Professor of Technical Theatre Amy Critchfield with having a plan from the beginning of how to make productions happen this semester, regardless of what might happen with COVID-19. By choosing shows they would be able to stream if necessary, they insured that they would still be able to share their performances.
It worked out well for Stephen that “Pirates of Penzance,” the show he’s been wanting to do, is in the public domain, so no copyright laws prevent it from being recorded and shared virtually.
And to do a production this big, this year, and still pull it off well, they got the work done despite the challenges, and he’s proud of that.
“We’re still able to do it, which is the important thing,” Stephen said.
“The Pirates of Penzance” will be available to watch from Nov. 17 until Nov. 30. Tickets are available now and are still $13 for adults and $8 for seniors and youth. Patrons who purchase access to a Video On Demand stream will have 48 hours to watch the show from the first time they start watching. Those who previously purchased a ticket for an in-person or livestream event will be sent an email with a new link to the show.
For more information, call the Performing Arts Office at 307-382-1721 or visit www.showtix4u.com/events/westerntheatre.