Directing a play during a pandemic: Q&A with Miss Molly director


Theatre TCU’s production of Miss Molly*, streaming Sept. 3-6 on YouTube, is a student-written, directed and designed production. Originally slated to premiere to in-person audiences this spring, Miss Molly was postponed due to the pandemic and reworked to be a virtual production.

To maintain social distancing, actors filmed their scenes individually on green screens in various locations around Ed Landreth Hall. Matthew Parker ’20, who was the student director in the spring, returned—virtually—to direct the show via Zoom.

Below, Parker shares his experiences of directing a virtual production during a pandemic.

Miss Molly was originally slated to premiere as an in-person production earlier this year, but was shifted to a virtual production this fall due to the pandemic. Why was it important to you to remain involved in this production even after you graduated this spring?

When Miss Molly was cancelled, we were a week out from opening. Almost all the work was done: the set was built, costumes were close to completion, actors were memorized, and staging was set. We were just waiting for an audience. So, as you can imagine, it was devastating when the show was cancelled.

“Theatre may not be essential in the way that medical workers, restaurants or grocery stores are, but it is essential to our souls.” -Matthew Parker ’20, director of Theatre TCU’s virtual production of Miss Molly

When it was resurrected for the fall, of course I wanted to jump back in since I had already invested so much into the show. As the director, you oversee all the moving parts in a show and try to keep all the hard work from your designers and actors in one cohesive world, so it was important for me to come back and try to keep the initial vision of the show alive despite the altered [format]. More than that, though, it gave me one last chance to work with my cherished friends on this show that we had all grown so close on putting together.

What was interesting or challenging about directing the virtual production of Miss Molly?

Moving the show digitally was a huge undertaking. Directing the show in person last spring was already my first time really in the director’s seat on anything this big, so there was already so much on the job learning that you just don’t get from reading books or being in class. Without having had all that time working on the show in the spring, I have no idea how I or anyone involved would have approached the show now, but…I had at least a frame work and concept for the show that I wanted to keep intact with moving the show to this new medium.

The most challenging aspect for me was not being there in person. It’s so much harder to get ideas across or to give feedback through a tiny screen [via Zoom]. I’m someone who likes to be up on their feet, moving around, using my hands and body to help get ideas across and that was something that just couldn’t be done anymore, so it was a great learning experience to have to adjust to this new format. It’s also just so much harder to stay motivated when you’re not physically working in the space or with other people directly.

Filming took about 32 hours over the course of eight days, but that doesn’t reflect any of the time spent on the show in the spring, the rehearsal time over Zoom, or the many hours—probably now in the hundreds—that our technical director at Theatre TCU, Tristan Decker, spent editing everything together.

Are you seeing a trend of virtual productions in theatre industry?

Definitely! Back in March, when things really began to shut down, theatres were mostly postponing productions with the thought that they could resume business as usual in a few weeks or months, but as time has gone on and this has become the new status quo, theatres have accepted the current circumstances and are all trying to create art in a safe manner.

The biggest hurdle that no one has really overcome yet is audience interaction. It is what separated theatre from other art forms like movies and television, and so far, no one has figured out that interplay between performer and viewer.

Theatre may not be essential in the way that medical workers, restaurants or grocery stores are, but it is essential to our souls. Now more than ever people are wanting a break or an escape. More than ever I’m hopeful for the future of the theatre and for the arts!

Tell us about your experience of directing a new play that was written by a fellow Theatre TCU alum, Christine Herrero ’19.

Amazing! Because it’s a new show, there are not any previous productions to look to for inspiration, so it all has to spur from how the text inspires you and everyone else involved. The interplay between director and playwright is a super cool experience that people don’t get when working on an established show. Since Miss Molly had never been produced before there would be moments where a line or something in the script wasn’t working right or as intended, and it’s incredible to be able to talk to the playwright directly to get changes or to see how they envisioned it. Christine wrote an incredible show and was invaluable in putting it together.

The actors filmed their scenes individually in front of green screens. What was that process like during rehearsals and filming?

In a word: complicated. Because [the actors] were filming in their own spaces, making it seem like they were talking to one another was weird. Before every scene, I had to tell each actor where they were relative to everyone else, so when they talked to someone they could look to where that person was supposed to be. And, because I wasn’t there to actually see what it [in person], there was a lot of stopping and saying, “Alright, can you look at that last take? Where does it look like you’re looking? Alright, then adjust your head slightly left.”

That was all very new and different than anything any of us had done before. On the flip side, there was still a lot that was the same with directing any show, such as line notes, what the intention of a moment might be, or talking through character if something isn’t sitting right. To the actors’ [credit], they took it all in stride and were wonderful!

What are you most excited for audiences to see when they watch Miss Molly?
After all this time, I don’t know if there’s a specific part that I’m excited for people to see. I’m more excited that people will get to see it at all. So much hard work from so many different people has gone into this show, so I’m excited that it’s finally going to be seen and everyone’s work will be rewarded.

Reserve your free ticket to Miss Molly, Sept. 3-6.

*Disclaimer: Miss Molly not suggested for audience members under the age of 16.

 This interview was lightly edited for clarity and brevity.