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[Updated] UST Performing Arts Go Virtual: A Look at UST Drama’s “Healing Hilarity”

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article stated UST’s Alpha Psi Omega chapter, a student organization for theatre lovers, created and performed “Healing Hilarity”; instead, it was UST’s drama department. The Independent apologizes for this error.

As departments across campus continue to adapt to the virtual education demanded by the pandemic, The University of St. Thomas’ drama department joined in with a socially distanced, online performance of their own. The performance aired from Oct. 29-Nov. 8 on YouTube via UST-DRAMA. 

“Healing Hilarity,” a comedy sketch show, includes 12 pieces –skits, songs, or monologues— all designed to boost morale and provide laughter to a hurting population, according to sophomore drama major Jacqueline Kong, the assistant stage manager for the show.

“The basic idea for the show was to bring laughter, happiness, and comedy during a time that is really uncertain and, frankly, a little dark,” Kong said.

The sketch comedy show was designed for a live performance, but with pandemic restrictions changing often, the decision was made to move the show to a virtual platform. 

“We tossed around a few ideas; this actually started as an outdoor show,” the show’s director and UST Drama Professor Michael Morrison, wrote in an email to the Celt Independent,

“Knowing things were changing week to week, we felt it best to keep the show digital with mostly solo work.”

Some of the pieces were chosen from famous works, while others were collaboratively written by cast and crew members. Most of the actors’ recordings were done solo to respect social distancing guidelines.

The first two weeks of rehearsals took place virtually over Zoom. Then, once the University’s administration made the call to resume in-person classes using the hybrid format, the rehearsals were moved to in-person at the campus’s Jones Theater with online rehearsal remaining an option, Morrison said. 

In-person rehearsal and recording attendance were kept to a minimum to reduce the amount of people in the theater at any given time. Additionally, the cast and crew were required to wear masks and maintain social distance, and equipment was sanitized between takes.

According to Kong, the biggest challenge when creating the show was maintaining the feel of a live performance while filming.

“It’s like walking a tightrope; we have to balance between film acting and maintaining a strong stage presence,” Kong said.

Kong explained that, while actors can rehearse, stage acting does not allow for multiple takes. If a stage actor makes a mistake, they must take it in stride and go on with the show, while film actors are allowed multiple takes to get the scene just right. 

To maintain the authenticity of a live performance, Morrison chose to limit the amount of times an actor recorded a scene.

“Most pieces were filmed under the circumstances of a live show, without the audience,” Morrison wrote.

Morrison wrote that each skit or piece had a specific tone, some relating to current events, which were meant to inspire, give hope, or bring comedic relief.

For example, the “Cold Open/COVID Comedy” skit sets the tone for the production, allowing audience members to have a small laugh at their circumstances as a puppet named “Covid” did bad stand up comedy and got pulled off stage, vaudeville-style.

“This also serves to clear out the elephant in the room and get people focused on the show,” Morrison wrote.

Another COVID- specific skit, “Covid MATCH or CATCH,” is a light hearted take on dating during the pandemic, while in a “Karen Support Group” sketch, “Karens” complain about their name (now used as a pejorative term for an entitled white woman), and argue over who is most oppressed. 

The closing piece, “Heartfelt Goodbye,” emphasizes the importance of the arts and the Houston Arts Alliance fundraiser, which is helping local art programs get through the pandemic, Morrison said. 

Proceeds from the performance go to the Houston Arts Alliance; so far the show has raised $800 toward its goal of $2,000. 

Those interested in donating can find a link for the fundraiser can be found on the @USTDRAMA Instagram account.

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