Students perform Romeo and Juliet


Theatre is an enriching experience – whether it’s for those on stage, backstage or in the audience. It allows us to tell a story, it entertains us and connects us. 

It’s long been a powerful tool for engagement, and education – and luckily, not even a global pandemic can stop the UNI Department of Theatre from creating and sharing theatre across Iowa.

“With the COVID-19 restrictions, we’ve had to pivot,” said Eric Lange, head of the UNI department of theatre. “While our live performances had to be cancelled, students and faculty worked together to find new and creative ways to perform.”

At this time last year, the department was preparing for their spring production of Romeo and Juliet. They had planned to host several live performances for hundreds of Iowa high school students, before touring the show to schools around the state.

When it became apparent that wouldn’t be possible, the department had to get creative.

“We still knew we really wanted to share this performance with Iowa high school students, and their teachers, as a learning resource,” Lange said. “So, we worked throughout the beginning of the fall semester to record a socially-distanced, staged reading of Romeo and Juliet.”

Working with staff at the Gallagher Bluedorn Performing Arts Center, who filmed the performance, the department was able to create a video recording – which they shared with high school drama and literature teachers across the state.

Dixie Forcht, who is the Director of Theatre and Large Group Speech at South Tama County High School, was one of the many teachers to receive the resource.

“Having this material is a great benefit to our theatre class, since we’re unable to travel to see live theatre during the pandemic,” Forcht said. “We’re a small, rural community, and other than participating in productions, many of our students do not have the opportunity to see theatrical productions unless we travel to the Iowa Thespian Festival at UNI, or to theatres in the surrounding communities.”

Forcht says she plans to use the recording in her advanced theatre class, to discuss storylines, and production elements such as costuming, blocking and lighting.

“We’re really grateful for this resource, and glad to still be able to learn about and experience theatre is such a challenging time,” Forcht said. “It’s also fun, because we have many South Tama County High School alums attending UNI, who are involved in the theatre program. It’s a comfort to see college theatre adjusting to the demands of performance in a pandemic.”

Lange says he’s pleased that the department was able to work together to ensure that local youth are still able to enjoy, and learn from, this production. 

“It’s always been a goal of our department to engage local youth with the performing arts, whether it’s through hosting the Iowa Thespians Festival, through Sturgis Youth Theatre  productions throughout the year, and through other outreach opportunities,” he said. “We’re glad that, even during a global pandemic, we can still share the joy of the performing arts with young people.”

Click here to watch TheatreUNI’s performance of Romeo and Juliet online for free.