Performing in a pandemic: ‘Little Women’s’ Beth and Amy March talk about the unique experience

Mary Alice Russell

For three nights this week, “Little Women The Broadway Musical” will grace ticket holder’s computer screens, but Keller Theatre will remain dark. 

COVID-19 has changed the world of theatre. From Broadway to college campuses, live, in-person performances have been totally shut down for over a year. 

The challenge of COVID-19 restrictions has led to a lot of major changes, compromises and reconfigurations of theatre that had never been explored deeply before. 

Lauren Hoagland, ’22, has been involved in both theatre productions that Washington and Lee has held during the pandemic: “Tartuffe” and “Little Women The Broadway Musical.” 

“The department definitely learned from the experience of ‘Tartuffe’ and kind of the difficulties that we had there and adapted,” Hoagland said. “I think that is the biggest word I would use about COVID is just adapting and being flexible and making sure you keep in mind that we are trying to create art here and that’s in whatever from it can possibly be.”

The theatre department has adapted considerably, as have the other performing arts departments, to make sure that everyone remains safe while still allowing students to do what they love. 

To ensure an optimal experience for the pre-recorded show, the dialogue and singing were recorded before any of the blocking for the show had started. 

Blocking out where actors say their lines is a major part of acting and directing. It can change how an actor says his or her lines. But in this show, once the lines were recorded, there was no going back. 

“At the end of January, we were done with our interpretation of the lines, and we had to fit all of our blocking and interpretations into the early reading of those lines, which is very difficult,” Hoagland, who plays Amy March, said. “There are definitely lines I cringe at because I now think something else.” 

Adele Roulston, ’24, who plays Beth March in the show, said that acting to a prerecorded track definitely took some time to get used to. But there were also some benefits to working in a recorded environment instead of a live one, she said.

“I am a musical theatre person in my heart, so yeah, if I could have a live audience then that would be ideal,” Roulston said. “But it did take off a little bit of pressure because if we did make a mistake, we could refilm it and we can rerecord it which is definitely not how it works in live theatre.” 

The musical was filmed like a movie, out of order to make sure there was continuity in the way that scenes were set. Even in going out of order to make sure that everything was right, there were still challenges. 

Kate Dewing, ’23, is a film minor who helped film a few scenes on a volunteer basis.

“We have had some outliers with continuity where there is a prop that wasn’t there in the last shot so they have to redo it or it will just magically appear in the shot,” Dewing said.

Filming out of order, having to redo scenes because there is a prop there that shouldn’t be, not having the ability to change how actors say lines and not having a live audience to react are all challenges that have made performing this musical incredibly unique and challenging, said the actors. 

But there are upsides. Out of the six shows she has been involved in on campus, Hoagland says that this cast is her favorite, and she is not the only one. 

“I love this cast with my whole heart,” Roulston said. 

You can order tickets for the musical from the Lenfest Center for the Arts website. The performance will be streamed from March 30 to April 1.