MURRAY, Ky. — The Theatre Arts program at Murray State University recently completed production and recording of an original children’s play, Vasilisa: Brave and Wise to distribute to regional elementary schools.
Traditionally, the Theatre Arts program invites elementary students from around the area to its annual children’s show on campus. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, that annual event was impossible in its traditional format. In adherence to Kentucky state guidelines and Murray State’s Racer Safe and Healthy Guidelines, the program adapted by rehearsing mainly on Zoom, then performing the play in a socially distanced format while also wearing masks that were incorporated into the characters’ costumes. Murray State’s Digital Media Services and Television Production students then recorded a performance of the play using a bare minimum number of personnel at any one time. The play was then distributed digitally, along with a study guide, to regional elementary schools for viewing.
“I’d say the biggest challenges were in reframing the way we work,” said Matthew Crider, assistant professor of theatre and director of the play. “We frequently were approaching challenges as if it was live theatre with an audience, only to remember that this was a filmed project, which changed the way we operated in many ways. Some things became a lot easier, some things became a lot harder, but either way we had to continually rethink what we were doing compared to how we normally would operate.”
“Being a part of Vasilisa was certainly a once in a lifetime experience,” said Logan Holt, a senior business administration major and theatre minor from Utica, Kentucky. “I enjoyed how everyone had to think outside the box to find the solutions they needed to make the show come to life. One of my favorite parts of the show are the masks. Each character had a unique mask as part of their costume and we did not have to worry about removing our regular masks to perform the play.”
Written by Murray State Theatre Arts professor Lissa Graham-Schneider, Vasilisa: Brave and Wise is an adaptation of a Russian folktale which is a variation on the Cinderella story. Vasilisa is a beautiful, hardworking girl who is mistreated by her stepmother and stepsister. Vasilisa’s only comfort is a doll that was given to her by her mother before her unfortunate death. Forced by her stepmother to seek out the much-feared Baba Yaga of the woods, Vasilisa must prove her bravery and her intelligence in order to return alive and save her father.
The character of Vasilisa was played by Olivia Beach, a freshman theatre major from Louisville, Kentucky.
“As a freshman at Murray State this year, it was truly an amazing experience getting to play such an inspiring role in Lissa Graham-Schneider’s story,” said Beach. “Even though we had to follow many COVID-19 procedures, I would agree that those didn’t stop our cast and crew from working together to create an amazing play to show many children in many different schools.”
Leah Harley, a junior psychology major and theatre minor from Hardin, Kentucky, agreed.
“It was so much fun getting to be a part of this production,” she said. “It is amazing how we all had the opportunity to come together in the midst of these difficult times and make something that hopefully brings people joy, which is really what theatre is all about.”
“Working on this show was the most normalcy I’ve seen in months,” said Caroline Winnenberg, a junior creative writing major and theatre minor from Louisville, Kentucky. “I loved having fun with my character and being able to challenge myself as an actor. Though being masked and keeping social-distancing provided additional difficulties in production, everyone involved made it worth my while.”
Noah Padgett, a freshman music education major from Louisville, Kentucky, found the experience instructive as well as enjoyable.
“I learned that even in hard times like a global pandemic we can still find ways to do the arts,” he said. “This show was a great example of this.”
The play can be viewed on the Murray State Global Languages and Theatre Arts YouTube page, or by contacting department chair Brent Menchinger (firstname.lastname@example.org) for the video link, program, and the study guide.