Live acting returns to campus in new University Theatre season

Even during a pandemic, the show must go on.

After a year and a half of canceled, scaled back, and performed over Zoom, University Theatre is back with a full roster of in-theater productions.

“We’re back in business,” said Janet Rose, interim head of the Department of Theatre Arts. “We’re building sets and the costume people are making Victorian clothing. We held auditions and it was wonderful to see so many new students. They’re excited, and for those of us who have slogged through this pandemic for a year and a half, they all showed up and said, ‘We want to audition!’”

The process of selecting a play to produce, according to Rose, begins with dates and the appropriate theater: the Robinson for larger productions, or the smaller more intimate Hope Theatre. In general, the directors suggest plays they would like to direct.

Bookended by two classics, this year’s lineup takes a journey spanning time and continents, from Victorian era London to Chicago in the early 20th century to the 1990s, and from a modern-day pub in Ireland to an English country manor in the 1920s.

While this season’s plays are entertaining, they are decidedly diverse, touching on themes such as class, race relations, inequality and cultural stereotypes.

“We try to do plays that are topical, but these are a couple of very conscious choices,” Rose said.

Although the actors will perform unmasked on stage this season, proof of COVID-19 vaccination card or photo, or a negative test with a valid photo ID are required for all guests ages 12 and up. Masks are required for everyone aged five and up.

The classic “A Christmas Carol,” adapted from Charles Dickens’ 1843 novella about a miser who finds redemption, kicks off the season Nov. 19.

“Dickens pulled no punches” Rose said. “The people during the industrial revolution in London were very, very poor, but it’s not going to be all gloom and doom; we’re going to sing Christmas carols.”

Opening Jan. 28 is “Personal History,” a comedy drama depicting three milestone moments in American history over the course of a century through the lens of an African American couple living in Chicago.

The Tony award-winning musical “Once” opens Feb. 25. A love story about an Irish musician and a Czech immigrant who are drawn together by their shared love of music, all the action takes place in a Dublin pub and features a modern mix of Irish and modern music and song.

“The cast are also the musicians, so we will be working with the School of Music and mixing that up a bit,” Rose said.

Next up on Apr. 15, “God Said This” aims to break ethnic and social stereotypes through a tale of a Japanese American daughter of a Japanese mother and white American father, who returns home to Kentucky after a long absence when her mother undergoes chemotherapy for an aggressive cancer.

Closing out the season is the witty Noel Coward comedic farce “Hay Fever,” which takes a frenzied look at the dysfunctional relationships and rivalries within the eccentric Bliss family as viewed by their bewildered guests who are subjected to a weekend characterized by the families over-the-top bickering, bad manners and jealousy.

This year, University Theatre also celebrates 120 years of theatrical productions, which began with “The Henrietta,” presented at the Parker Opera House on March 30, 1901. The proceeds from the play were donated to the treasury of the UO football team.

At the time, it was a common practice for plays to finance not only the football team, but various university publications as well as provide support for campus building funds.

—By Sharleen Nelson, University Communications