The Hillsdale College Theatre Department’s production of “J.B.” will now open on Jan. 20.
Written in 1958 by Archibald MacLeish, “J.B.” is a modern adaptation of the Biblical story of Job. Although the play was slated to open Nov. 18, the theatre department decided to postpone the production until next semester due to a limited number of staff.
“We were entering into our tech week and about a third of our cast was either in quarantine or in isolation,” Chairman and Professor of Theatre James M. Brandon said.
The theatre department members were not anticipating new health guidelines from the state, Brandon said, but they were not surprised by the shutdown.
“It’s upsetting. It’s a difficult decision,” Brandon said. “No one feels like we made the wrong decision, though. Everyone understands why we did what we did, but nobody likes it.”
Brandon said the cost of keeping a high-quality production outweigh keeping the original opening date.
“We don’t feel like we could have done it to the standard we were trying to achieve,” Brandon said. “We can replace one or two people in a production on the fly, but when you have five or six out of 14 out, you can’t do it.”
Brandon said the theatre department will not move the production again to prevent any further scheduling conflicts with already planned productions later in the semester. Brandon said the theatre department will consider a Zoom-formatted viewing option of “J.B.” if unable to host a live production.
There will be theatrical masks and a masked element in the play, which will help the actors abide by state health guidelines.
“The play requires that some characters wear masks,” Michael Beyer, director and lighting designer and production manager for the Fine Arts Building said. “The need for masking is already built into the play.”
Over winter break, the cast will hold Zoom rehearsals and brainstorming sessions, senior theatre major Johannes Olson said. The cast will also come back early from winter break for in-person rehearsals.
Olson, who is playing the lead character, Job, said he will be looking at lines daily, studying the play, and journaling about his character over the break.
“I am seeing this delay as a blessing in disguise,” Olson said. “It allows me to do more study and character work for the show, specifically the nature of suffering and evil.”
The delay, however, has created some logistical issues, Olson said.
“It’s very difficult to feel camaraderie over Zoom,” Olson said. “The inability to come together in person distracts from the energy.”
While it will take time for all to get used to the adjustments, the program remains optimistic.
“We will try to do theatre until we can’t, and right now, we can’t,” Brandon said. “I think this wave will pass. I think we will have live theatre next semester. I am banking on live theatre next semester. It’s frustrating, but I do have hope.”
For his part, Beyer said students should be grateful that the prospect of live theatre is still on the table for next semester.
“With Broadway theater closed until May, the very fact that we have this opportunity to even talk about doing a performance in these times is something that these students are very lucky to have,” Beyer said. “The campus community should not take that lightly.”