ARC’s theatre department returns to campus happy, after two years of performing online

The theatre department will perform “The Christmas Carol Rag” starting on Nov. 26


The American River College theatre department prepares for its next production, “The Christmas Carol Rag” in the fall semester of 2021. (Photo courtesy of Tracy Shearer)

American River College’s Department of Theatre Arts & Film had a difficult time transitioning online when the COVID-19 pandemic hit but now, after two years it is back on campus.

The department offers classes such as stage movement, musical theater, voice dialogue and more classes that help students become an actor.

ARC’s theater publicity manager Tracy Shearer said that the department faced issues teaching these classes over Zoom.

“The idea of how to help an actor learn to be large in a space, project their voice, and physically become a character—doing that through a Zoom screen is not for the faint of heart,” Shearer said. 

Shearer said professors were all willing to teach classes online despite the challenges.

“Nobody said no, everyone said yes, we had teachers in the department who didn’t even have computers at home,” Shearer said. “They had to completely from scratch get all of that equipment up and running at their homes.”

The theater department has been able to offer those types of classes in person this semester but the lecture classes are still being taught online. Theatre classes that require physical action will continue to be offered in person next semester, according to Shearer.

The actors’ performances also adapted to the pandemic as performances were held on Zoom instead of on stage. Shearer calls such performances “Zoom box performances” and said they came with a lot of problems like the order of boxes on the screen being different for every viewer, which impacted how the performance was viewed. 

“What ended up really happening was our department moved into a hybrid theatre film experience world,” Shearer said.

Actors recorded their scenes in a Zoom session and hours of recording were edited together. Actors had to have the proper equipment in their homes like cameras, microphones, lighting and green screens.

After two years the theater department finally returned to the stage on Oct. 15 with the play “Comedy of Errors.” Shearer said that the actors were thrilled to be back.

“An actor really feeds off of the energy in the audience,” Shearer said. “That interaction between audience and actor that makes theatre unique and makes it an experience that’s kind of hard to describe, it’s really exciting.” 

The theater department follows the rules of the college: all audience members, cast or faculty need to be fully vaccinated and must wear a mask. 

Shearer says that masks make it difficult for the audience to see facial expressions and to hear the cast members. The department has been using masks with microphones.

Another challenge has been low attendance, Shearer added.

“Opening night we had 29 people in the audience, the next night we had 15 people in the audience, the next day we had twenty people in the audience,” Shearer said. “Back before the pandemic, a low night at the theater would’ve been 50 or 60 people.”

The theater department’s next show will be a musical, “The Christmas Carol Rag,” which will open on November 26. For more information visit their website here.