CWRU’s theater department takes a bow

Performing live theater via Zoom

Tobili Hatcher, Staff Reporter

The show must go on, as they say, and on it went. On April 24, members of the Case Western Reserve University Department of Theater came together via Zoom to put on their production of William Inge’s play “Bus Stop,” Eldred’s final show this season, that was originally scheduled to be performed earlier this month. 

With CWRU’s decision to move to remote learning and cancel the remaining on-campus spring activities, the production seemed unlikely. However, with the help of the cast and crew, direction from Co-Director of Undergraduate Theater Recruitment and acting instructor Christopher Bohan and his assistant director and second-year student Ethan Kinstler, and a stable internet connection, the theater department was able to put on a show to be remembered. 

Set in a greasy spoon ‘50s diner in rural Kansas, “Bus Stop” tells the story of eight people stranded at a bus stop diner due to a snowstorm that leaves all of the roads and exits closed for the night. Upon meeting the characters for the first time, particularly the male characters, they don’t seem particularly likeable. Yet, as time goes on, the audience begins to learn how to love each of the characters as they develop into better versions of themselves. 

We start off by meeting Grace Hoylard (fourth-year student Sarah Parr), who is the owner of the greasy spoon alongside her server, the naive and impressionable Elma Duckworth (first-year student Grace Ingham). 

The next character we meet is the local sheriff, Will Masters (third-year student David Dolansky), who steps in and tries to save the leading lady, Cherie (fourth-year student Sara Young), when she mentions that she’s being chased by her “boyfriend,” Bo Decker (fourth-year student Richard Pannullo), because she doesn’t want to run away with him to Montana to live on his ranch. A father-like figure to Decker, as well as his right-hand man, Virgil Blessing (fifth-year student Will Erickson) also finds himself stuck in the diner that night. 

Another character is fresh out of a long and laborious relationship. Dr. Gerald Lyman (second-year student Sarthak Shah) is a recently divorced college professor who is incapable of holding a job due to both his attraction to younger women and inability to take direction from any type of authority figure.

Lastly, we can’t forget about the bus driver, Carl (fourth-year student Jack McDonald), who also finds himself stuck at his long-term lover Hoyland’s diner, which brings the story full circle. 

As you find yourself captivated by the actor’s performances, matching virtual diner backgrounds,  with male characters digitally designed by costume design professor and head costume designer Angelina Herin and hand-drawn female characters by assistant costume designer and second-year student Clara Johnson, it was almost like sitting in Eldred Theater and having all of the actors and actresses in front of you. All of the actors on screen also choose to dress the part—down to the shoes for some actors—to really get into character and present the best version of the show possible. 

In addition to having the costuming element preserved, “Bus Stop” was made possible with the additional help of stage manager and fourth-year student Ellie Fitzpatrick who created the slides for each setting along with assistant stage manager and second-year student Katie Heart, who read all of the stage directions to help set the scenes and narrated the entire play. 

Although members of the theater department can normally be found spending time in Eldred Theater or any of the accompanying rehearsal rooms, this particular group of students spent more time rehearsing for this show online than they did in person. At the end of Friday’s performance, Bohan recounts how the group “had our last rehearsal [together] on Thursday, March 5. We actually did a run through of the show, and I said to them, half-jokingly, ‘Have fun, this might be the last time you do this.’” 

While it may have been true for in-person rehearsals and performances, the group began to prepare for the Zoom edition of the play about two weeks ago, which would have been amidst the original dates for the show. 

The cast and crew worked quickly, as they tried to figure out what would be the best way to deliver the performance through this new medium. Pannullo recounts “during the week leading up to the performance, [they] had three rehearsals where [they] read through the entire play together … a lot of that time rehearsing was also spent discovering what works best over Zoom in terms of performance.” 

From figuring out whether to look directly into the camera or the screen to the timing of when to turn on the camera and what to do if someone suddenly freezes mid-sentence, there were a lot of things they had to learn how to deal with. 

“[I] found the transition [from stage to screen] to be pretty manageable from a technique standpoint,” Young said. “Part of the Theater Department course selection is an Acting for the Camera class, and I was able to really focus on using what I learned there and putting it towards the Zoom performance.” 

One could see how comfortable Young felt performing, despite being on screen rather than onstage, as she was able to portray Cherie, the young woman who is on a mission to figure out what it means to be in love, perfectly. The character development between Hoyland and Carl was also entertaining, as they both try to navigate what it means to be “friends with benefits” and what the rules of their quasi-relationship really are. 

Even with the shortened rehearsal time, the group was still able to pull off an incredible performance of “Bus Stop,” without any major interference or technical glitches. Streaming the show online allowed for an interactive experience between the cast, crew and audience. There were around 70 spectators, including alumni and other students involved in theater, and they were invited to participate in a joint Q&A session with the cast and crew after the show was over. 

For many, this staging of “Bus Stop” may have been their introduction into the theater world at CWRU. However, for six members of the cast and crew, this was their final curtain call, as almost half of the show included graduating seniors. Over the past four years, McDonald, Pannullo, Parr, Young and Erickson have been in many different Eldred, Players’ Theatre Group and Footlighters shows.

“Bus Stop” has definitely been a play to remember for many reasons, but it also stings for many seniors.

 “I wish I could sugar coat it for you. I wish I could tell you that it was great that we had a show at all, and that this learning experience was just as important as a physical production. But in all honesty, it stings that this is the last show for all the seniors” said Pannullo. “As positive as I would like to be in the face of everything, losing the opportunity to work in person with a group of artists I have come to know and love, in an art form that has changed my life––it really stings.”

“We are all very grateful to [those who came to the performance] and to our director, [Bohan], and the whole production team for making this happen and working with us through the process,” Young said. 

The graduating students will be missed dearly and will not be forgotten any time soon.

 “These are some of the finest actors I have had the pleasure of working with [and] I wish the seniors the best of luck. I hope our paths will cross again soon” Dolansky said.

With the final curtains being drawn on “Bus Stop,” it’s nice to see the theater spirit alive and well for the group. Even though we’re all hoping to see them back on the main stage at Eldred Theater this fall, it’s nice to know that Zoom can be used as another medium to enjoy the arts. Until then, let the show go on! 

**Abby McAlister is also a graduating senior and was originally a part of the sound crew for the show, but did not participate in the Zoom crew of “Bus Stop.”

Disclaimer: Sarah Parr is the Director of Business Operations at the Observer.