UMTAD 2020-21 Season Update

"Pippin" (2019) Photo by Dan Norman.
"Pippin" (2019) Photo by Dan Norman.

As we prepare to embark on what will be a very different experience than what any of us are used to, it is important for you to be aware of precautions we are taking in preparation for next season as you finalize your plans for the coming year. With the continued uncertainty owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, and taking cues from other performing arts organizations, the UMTAD leadership group has made the difficult decision to not present fully produced performances for live audiences during the 2020-21 season.  This decision was dictated and informed by the following factors: 

  • The demand for space to accommodate classes in the Barker and Rarig leaves no space for production rehearsals nor adequate space to build scenery.
  • In order to promote physical distancing practices, all university spaces will have their capacities reduced by 75%, including production facilities.
  • Due to this significant reduction in available space, and concerns about ability to safely conduct costume fittings, we will be unable to produce scenery or costumes in support of performance projects during the 2020-21 academic year.

This was an agonizing decision to come to, but given how unpredictable the future is during this pandemic, and out of an abundance of caution and concerns for the health and safety of our students, faculty, staff, and our audiences, we feel it is better to err on the side of caution, than to promise something we can’t deliver.  Certainly, this news is disappointing, though given the circumstances, probably not surprising.
Although it will not be business as usual, we are committed to continue offering our students the richest experiences possible this academic year.  The challenges presented by the move to distance learning this past spring demonstrated that many in our community were able to creatively adapt to the situation and, in many cases, discovered quite effective interactions with students resulting in truly inspired work. 
Given the health and safety concerns presented by the virus, programs have  developed alternate plans for the year in lieu of our traditional performance schedule. Following consultation with students, we have crafted these plans in ways to honor their needs:

Dance Program: Instead of the traditional University Dance Theatre (UDT) production, the dance leadership group has identified 10 local dance makers to create solos, duets and trios for our majors who express an interest in participating in a two-week residency with one of the artists. These new works will be shared in small end of residency showings and as a part of an online dance film series during the 2020-21 season. The dance program is currently planning to move ahead with its scheduled Spring University Dance Theatre Cowles Guest Artist residencies. Dance will continue to monitor the ever-changing challenges around COVID to determine what type of presentation will follow these residencies.

BA Theatre Arts: While we will be taking a break from staged plays, constructed sets and ticketed events, this fall the BA program will gain inspiration from our core values and continue to create work in our “classrooms” with an eye to “what comes next?”.  What is next for theatre? For community? For the public sphere? How will art heal wounds? How will we forge new pathways? As we wrestle open-eyed with these questions and grapple with this ripe cultural moment, the sharing of performance and design work emanating from our classes whether online or in person, may take many forms;  public performances as protest art, multi-disciplinary collages, new play readings online, solo shows, design installations, dramaturgical manifestos, auto theatre pop-ups, guest artist convergences, virtual history tours, sonic experiments, site specific performances. The sky is the limit. We will nurture the creative powers of experimentation and collaboration that our classes already embody and harness them toward innovating, sharing and documenting the paths we forge in this new paradigm.

The Season Selection Committee: (tasked with leading the department through choosing performance seasons that ignite the connections between BA Performance, MA/PhD and MFA Design/Tech programs) This fall we will continue to support the design, and dramaturgical process for Men on Boats with a performance and sharing of the work as a Creative Collaboration in the Spring Semester. The exact mode of the performance and sharing is not yet determined but will be led by Director Sara Pillatzki-Warzeha and her collaborative team. Planning for the announced second play of our JUBILEE season, Hecuba by Marina Carr is currently on hold until the committee and the department can determine more specifics about the Spring. This fall the committee will also begin work on crafting an approach to public performances for 2021/22.

BFA Acting/Guthrie Theater program: We will pivot to a fully virtual model for our Fall Semester of instruction, as well as our Performance Projects (i.e. our season of plays). While we cannot mount fully actualized productions for live audiences, we will marshall our resources to provide our student actors with vibrant virtual performance experiences that are reflective of our rich global community. Even as we pivot, we remain committed to the JUBILEE Season, and our dedication to more equitably foreground the work of BIPOC artists into our everyday practice. We are delighted to offer such a diverse Fall season led by some of the most talented artists the Twin Cities has to offer.

2nd Year Contemporary Repertory:                  
Everybody by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins
Directed by Sha Cage
Appropriate by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins
Directed by H. Adam Harris (*BFA Alumnus)
3rd Year Realism (Due to cancellation of Study Abroad)
Kin by Bathsheba Doran
Directed by Addie Gorlin
4th Year Realism Repertory:                                     
Trouble in Mind by Alice Childress
Directed by James A. Williams
Heresy of Love by Helen Edmondson
Directed by AnaSofia Villanueva

Our Performance Project Season is a vital component to our curriculum.  The interaction with dedicated professional directors, and working with designers in a rehearsal process is integral to our model of actor training. As an educational institution we must always give a bit more weight to process, but we must not neglect product entirely, even in a fully virtual model. We will continue to provide high quality actor training by taking several measures to enhance the virtual performance experience including but not limited to:

  • Holding a workshop for our directors and stage managers to share best practices and tools learned from the Spring semester’s transition to virtual performance.
  • Engaging designers (in collaboration with Design Tech) to interact with directors, and more intentionally with actors, doing the typical research, design preparation, artistic renderings and other “world building” that supports the experience. Designers could potentially create virtual transitions with sound and imagery that would replace traditional scene transitions to influence given circumstances, intention, and storytelling.
  • Supporting directors, when necessary, in crafting a final performance presentation that focuses on character arcs and the dramatic arc of the play, rather than the additional labor of producing an entire play.
  •  Continued collaboration with faculty, staff, students and theatre professionals to evolve and hone our virtual theatre techniques in a rapidly advancing field.


In addition to the above plans, in the spring we will explore innovative alternative opportunities for our Design/Tech students to develop skills and incorporate training that go beyond our scope during a producing season. We would engage students in director, designer, performer, and technician collaborations. Technical skills would include welding and metalworking, advanced draping, millinery, technical direction projects and advanced stage management. Designer skills would include designer/director collaboration intensives, projection design, CAD drafting, and an e-theatre version of toy theatre design and performance.
Should conditions improve to the extent that we are able to safely return to presenting performances for live audiences, we will re-evaluate at that time and pivot accordingly. Despite the uncertainty the future holds, one thing is clear: we are going to need to remain nimble and resourceful to quickly adapt to the ever-changing landscape presented by this virus and throughout this process we will be seeking input from our student community.

University of Minnesota Theatre Arts & Dance Department


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