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Ford Center for the Fine Arts

Virtual New Plays Workshop Gathers Knox Theatre Community Online

Knox Theatre’s New Plays Workshop has adapted to challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic by going fully virtual for the duration of spring term 2020. 

“I was trying to find a way to keep the Knox community creative during the pandemic,” said Joel Willison '20, who is co-producing the Virtual New Plays Workshop with Erin Yu '20. “I approached T.A.B. [Theatre Advisory Board] with the idea for Virtual New Plays Workshop and we started working from there.”

The New Plays Workshop, when taking place on campus, traditionally has taken place one weekend each term, accepting in-progress play submissions from student writers and reviewing them. In past academic terms, selected submissions have been presented as staged readings at Knox, and student directors and actors have collaborated with playwrights to continue to revise their plays in rehearsal. 

That all changed because of the pandemic. 

“We were trying to adjust to virtual term, and we missed participating in theatre,” said Yu. “We discuss and collaborate on a lot of our work.”

Here’s how it works now: Every Monday, Knox Theatre posts a one-word prompt to its Facebook, to its Instagram, and by email. “The prompt is for inspiration; the plays do not need to include the word,” Willison said. By Friday, student playwrights submit their drafts—plays that are no longer than 15 pages—for review. On Saturday, selected playwrights are notified that their scripts will be read the following day when the plays are presented Sundays at 2 p.m. Central Time on Instagram Live by Knox actors. 

“Instead of workshopping the plays in rehearsal, we have two students on campus who read each role,” Willison said. As the Virtual New Plays Workshop grows (in its third week, more than 60 Knox students, friends, alumni, and family tuned in), Yu and Willison also are exploring new forms that the workshop will take.

The Instagram Live sessions, held on Sunday afternoons on the Knox Theatre Instagram account, are hosted by Willison and Yu, and they feature actors from the Knox theatre program. “We're planning on expanding as we figure out the freedom and limitations of online performance as well as building a community of artists to create in a difficult time,” said Yu.

“Participation has been great and growing,” said Yu, and it has extended beyond simply tuning into livestreams. In addition to student submitters, the wider Knox community—like incoming first-years and alumni—have submitted their original plays to the Virtual New Plays Workshop.

Most recently, Willison and Yu have further connected with Knox Theatre alumni to set up interviews about their post-graduation lives. Interviews are held on Wednesday evenings through Instagram Live.

“We hope that students can get inspiration from these interviews for their own careers and get some questions answered, or at least start to form questions that they did not know they needed answered,” said Yu. The first guest was Brady Comenduley '18, who graduated from Knox with a major in theatre and a minor in educational policy studies and is now a lighting designer in Chicago, Illinois.

Yu said she and Willison were motivated to connect with alumni because “we wanted to hear what others have gone through before us.” 

These interviews and the Virtual New Plays Workshop have created a thriving network for Knox’s students, alumni, friends, and family. “If you are interested please let us know,” said Yu. Theatre alumni can email Yu and Willison at to set up a virtual interview.

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Printed on Sunday, June 13, 2021