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Digital festival showcases Theatre UNI student directors
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Digital festival showcases Theatre UNI student directors

From the Coronavirus update Northeast Iowa series
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CEDAR FALLS – The final assignment for each student in Theatre UNI’s directing class is to create a 10-minute play from concept to casting and rehearsal to performance. The COVID-19 pandemic closed the curtain on those productions when University of Northern Iowa sent its students home for safety.

But the show must go on.

Amy Osatinski, UNI assistant theater professor, came up with the Theatre UNI Digital Performance Festival. Student performances will be posted to the Theatre UNI Facebook and Twitter accounts, beginning Sunday through May 8.

“Students had already selected their plays, paid for the rights for their shows, cast their shows. Then COVID-19,” said Osatinski. One of her particular areas of interest is the intersection of digital media and contemporary theater, and this situation provided the perfect storm for launching the festival.

“Part of it was figuring out how we allow students to have some experience with the idea of creating and managing a piece of theater, while working remotely. We thought about doing their 10-minute plays with actors and directors working with each other from a distance,” she explained, but rules governing the rights to produce a show usually don’t include rights to stream the show.

Osatinski assigned her 13 students to each conceive, create and direct digital shorts about 3 to 5 minutes in length. Students have been encouraged to create the highest quality product possible, both visually and technologically. In addition, material must be in the public domain.

“They also have to create a short that is appropriate for a wide audience, keeping profanity to a minimum, a PG production that is accessible from many perspectives. Working on these shorts has been a learning experience for the students,” Osatinski said.

She expects the shorts will run the gamut from parodies and topical observations to dramatizations. Students are both excited and apprehensive.

“It’s OK to fail. I want students to get comfortable with failure because it happens, and you can learn as much or more from failure than success. They will be graded on their effort. It’s OK to take something big and work to a higher level. I want this to be a safe space to take risks.”

A new performance will be posted daily to Theatre UNI’s social media platforms, and Osatinski plans to create a YouTube channel. “Our hope is that by sharing one digital performance at a time, it will build an audience who will want to come back and see more videos. It’s also less overwhelming than watching 13 videos in a row.”

UNI theater majors are required to take the directing class, but Osatinski has no firm plans for making the digital component a permanent aspect of the course. “It’s a skill that benefits theater majors, and it’s a way to get students more literate in storytelling. Right now, things are so uncertain that we’re not doing much future planning other than getting ready for fall.”

Follow performances at Theatre UNI on Twitter @StrayerWood and Facebook @ TheatreUNI.

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