As the popular expression states, “The show must go on.” Like many thespians across the country and the world, the students of Ursinus College’s living newspaper class asked themselves how their play could continue in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. As the course transitioned online in mid-March, the students not only reimagined the format of their play, but they decided to use the pandemic as the topic of their living newspaper.
Meghan Brodie, assistant professor of theater, is teaching the theater capstone course on the living newspaper this semester and notes that the art form of a living newspaper is rooted in dramatizing current events. She continues, “This course examines several living newspaper scripts and asks students to write and produce their own living newspaper about a current event or pressing social issue of their choosing.”
While the class had decided on producing a play highlighting the impact of technology on young people, Caroline Bormann, a junior, says it became clear to the class that the COVID-19 pandemic was now an important and timely topic. Bormann continues, “We completely scrapped all the work that we had on technology and moved towards crafting a radio play, which includes narratives from different people affected by the COVID crisis.”
Now on an accelerated timeline, the students are using video meetings, document sharing services and group messaging to collaboratively craft the radio play. Despite the challenges of working remotely, the nine upper-class students are even more motivated to produce and share their play. And for students like senior Claire Hughes, the living newspaper course has been a weekly highlight during this time.
Hughes says, “In my opinion, this project has become a lot more important because now it’s taking a moment in history and preserving it in an artistic way. Living Newspapers are important as a whole, however, because they give the feeling of what life was in the past rather than just reciting facts.”
The play will include a variety of experiences and perspectives relating to the COVID-19 pandemic through narratives researched, written and recorded by the students. One of the monologues written by Caroline Bormann will speak from the position of an ICU nurse in her 40s who is working on the front lines and worrying about the safety of her family at home.
Myla Haan, a junior, emphasizes that this experience demonstrates the value of theater forms like living newspapers during this time. Haan says, “The biggest takeaway, for me, has been how vital the arts are in making news and people’s experiences accessible.”
Similar to Haan’s sentiments, Brodie reiterates, “Theater artists are able to make current events accessible to broad audiences quickly and creatively.” She continues, “I believe that theater offers playwrights, performers, production team members and audience members an exceptional opportunity to exercise empathy.”
As we all continue to social distance and shelter in place, Brodie and the students in the living newspaper course invite us to take a step back from the news and take a moment to step into the shoes of others during their 40-minute radio play.
“Isolated Together: Stories from the COVID-19 Pandemic,” is available as a part of the college’s Celebration of Student Achievement (CoSA) week. Access this project through the college’s digital commons and visit the CoSA week website to view other student scholarship. –By Jordan Scharaga ’17