By Emily Freer
556 days ago, William Peace University actors took their final bow in what would become the final show before COVID-19 brought all theatre to a halt.
But in 43 days, WPU actors will see the curtain rise again.
Amy Pridgen, an Associate Professor of Theatre and Musical Theatre at William Peace University, is set to direct the department’s first show of the season, The Wolves.
Whether they were wearing masks, standing 6ft or more apart, or pivoting to perform outside, theatre students have continued to perform throughout the pandemic. But Pridgen says they are eager to feel the rush of performing on a stage again.
“I think we’d all admit none of it has compared to being in an actual theatre with a group of actors and a live audience,” said Pridgen “The energy in that environment is unbeatable. We’re finally getting that back, and it feels incredible.”
The 2016 play written by Sarah DeLappe focuses on an indoor girls’ high school soccer team. Every scene of the play is a glimpse into what it is like during the girls’ warm-ups for their games. Pridgen says she first saw the play when a good friend was in the premiere in Washington, D.C.
“I went to see her in it and immediately knew it’d be a perfect fit for WPU,” said Pridgen. “It’s the most honest portrait I have seen of teenage ladies in their most comfortable environment. They aren’t sexualized or simplified, as most playwrights are apt to depict this demographic.”
The Wolves runs from Oct. 14-17 at WPU. Click here to get tickets.
Pridgen is ready to work with WPU powerhouse female-identifying actors who will bring these complex characters to life. She is also excited about collaborating with WPU’s Women’s Soccer Team to ensure authenticity to the sport in the show. She highlights that The Wolves, the title and name of the soccer team, is also the mentality the ladies have.
“They are a tight, protective pack that, despite their differences, care for each other deeply,” said Pridgen. “The sport of soccer always gives them a warrior-like competitiveness. The dichotomy between their gentleness and ferocity is not to be missed.”
WPU students are not only thrilled to audition for The Wolves, but also helping each other prepare. Matthew Monroe is the president of the student-led theatre group 15 Below. Before the auditions occurred, their organization hosted an audition workshop.
“We wanted to get back in the swing of things and dust the old bones and work through some of the audition techniques we didn’t get to use last year in a safe, friendly, and judgement-free environment,” Monroe said.
This event was a great opportunity to practice material, but it was also an opportunity for new students, theatre majors or not, to learn more about the theatre department.
“It was a way for us to get to know and see some old and familiar faces and help them get excited for auditions but also help with any last minute nerves and answer any questions about the audition process here at Peace,” said Monroe.
Rebekah Walker, a senior double major in business administration and arts administration, attended and showcased her materials at the event. She shared that the event was helpful and valuable to her preparation process.
“I’ve just done my own training and workshopping songs, so to hear what people think about it is really helpful ‘cause I know now what I need to work on,” Walker said.
Although both faculty and students are excited for the return of live theatre, the reality of COVID-19 is still taken into careful consideration. Pridgen shares that the department is working with the administration to adapt to guidelines from the CDC, State of North Carolina, and WPU but will start the rehearsal process with actors in masks.
“The hardest part of this is that the goal posts (pun absolutely intended) keep shifting. We are learning new things every day about safety protocols we should (or shouldn’t) be taking,” said Pridgen. “So, I’ve got four plans ready to implement based on the decisions we’ll be making mid-September.”
Monroe and Walker are confident that with the proper protocol and the theatre departments leadership they will be safe. Monroe reiterated the importance of wearing masks, and Walker added that she’s seen the department be really cautious and knows that the directors will do everything they can to make sure everyone is staying safe.
Pridgen also ensures that the rehearsal room is a safe and open space for those cast in the show, not just physically but also mentally, by emphasizing the importance of communication and self-advocacy.
“It’s important to the director and production team to take the concerns of the cast seriously. It’s always important for actors to speak up immediately and calmly about any concerns they have,” said Pridgen. “Letting oneself fester in fear or anger will only compound the issue. It’s best to openly communicate and come up with solutions that satisfy everyone’s needs.”