ISU Theatre may not host in-person shows for the fall semester


Emily Heckle strikes a pose during the dress rehearsal of “Godspell.” Heckle has participated in eight ISU Theatre productions over the past four years. 

Amber Mohmand

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article included the incorrect name for ISU Theatre and two misquotes. The article and headline have been corrected. The Daily regrets this error. 

ISU Theatre will not perform live for the fall 2020 semester. 

“We are planning some really exciting productions that are going to provide performance design, directing, and construction opportunities for students, faculty and staff,” said Director of ISU Theatre Brad Dell. “The reality of the situation is that Broadway is closed and the CDC is acknowledging that indoor performances of theater and concerts are the riskiest of behaviors and activities.”

This season for ISU Theatre is called the “Season of Invitation,” according to an email sent to the department, and will focus on imagination and innovation. 

“We won’t be having indoor performances in the fall. It doesn’t necessarily mean that everything will be virtual; there might be some outdoor performance opportunities,” Dell said. “But the majority of what we’re going to be doing will be viewable digitally.”

Dell sent an email to the students, staff and those involved in ISU Theatre detailing the current plan. 

“This is no ordinary time. And a “return to normal” is not only impossible, but unjust and immoral,” Dell said in the email. “ISU Theatre realizes more than ever that we must rely on our mission statement: ‘to empower citizen artistry by engaging students and the community in transformative theatre and performing arts experiences which examine the human condition, encourage lifelong learning, teach artistic skills, prepare professionals, inspire empathy, explore creativity, build relationships and embrace diversity.’ And now we are called to go even further and fully commit to practicing and advocating for anti-racism.”

The detailed plan follows the department’s guiding principles, announced last month, for the 2020 to 2021 school year: 

  1. Last month, the department announced its guiding principles for planning the 2020-2021 season. The season will provide substantial opportunities and assignments for student performers, designers and technicians.

  2. The season will provide directing, design and construction opportunities and assignments for ISU Theatre faculty and staff. 

  3. The health and safety of students, staff and audiences is paramount. All decisions will be based upon recommendations and guidelines from the university and public health experts.

  4. Each production will offer flexibility in how it can be presented (live, livestreamed, recorded, Zoomed, outside, etc.) to be determined by the individual production teams and in response to changing circumstances.

  5. All productions, no matter their format, will engage in a design process with all members of the production team actively involved.

  6. While adhering to university guidelines, each production team will have the freedom to collaboratively determine each individual production’s presentation format.

  7. This season’s bottom line will focus on fostering and increasing community capital rather than financial capital.

  8. Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, Representation and Anti-Racism will continue to be valued in all season planning decision

Along with Iowa State, Broadway has also shut down live performances until January 2021 to adhere to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines. Due to the pandemic a number of theaters and concert halls around the world are indefinitely closed as well. 

“According to nearly all experts, gathering large crowds in enclosed spaces is one of the riskiest activities right now,” Dell said. “Therefore, ISU Theatre will not be performing live in Fisher Theater — or any other inside venue — during fall 2020. While that decision undoubtedly represents a significant loss for our community, we are nevertheless incredibly excited to invite you to participate, experiment and discover alongside our dedicated faculty, staff and guest artists as we engage in new and vibrant pathways for theatre performance.”

Students are expected to physically return to campus Aug. 17 as Senior Vice President and Provost Jonathan Wickert shared a detailed plan mid-June for the fall semester for the university to follow. 

On June 24, Iowa State President Wendy Wintersteen announced face coverings would be required on campus beginning Wednesday. The email sent out to the Iowa State community Thursday stated additional details will be provided next week on how this will be enforced on campus. For now, faculty may contact their supervisor and students may contact the Dean of Students Office to report individuals failing to wear face coverings.

For the ISU Theatre, a majority of the theater and performing arts classes will include face-to-face and in-person classes and instruction.

Additionally, Dell addressed the plan for diversity and inclusion.  

As Citizen Artists, we are called to hold a mirror up to society and then reckon and respond. 2020 is the year of the virus – not only the global COVID-19 pandemic but our nation’s centuries-old virus of systemic racism,” Dell said. “ISU Theatre unequivocally condemns white supremacy and acts of violence, discrimination or intimidation of any kind against people of color, womxn, people with disabilities or members of the LGBTQIA+ community. And we proudly proclaim that BLACK LIVES MATTER. We acknowledge the privilege that the majority of our community enjoys. We recognize that we have sometimes failed in the past and that we likely fall short in the future. But we commit to listen more fully, respond more intentionally and strive to do better tomorrow than we did today in dismantling racism, sexism and homophobia and advocating for equity and justice in our own practices and society. We are instituting actionable plans to hold ourselves accountable to this commitment.” 

The classes will also offer a “greater focus on anti-racism in the arts by facilitating class discussions and amplifying and centering the work and writings of Black artists, indigenous artists and artists of color.”

“I think that we have a great opportunity to engage in stories and conversations that are really vital and important right now,” Dell said. “For our community here in Ames and beyond. And so I think that there’s great, great potential for this season for this fall to be really incredible and inspiring as we innovate and reimagine not only what theater is and what theater can and must be, but really what all of society and humanity can and must be.” 

ISU Theatre is currently planning on virtually hosting five theater projects for fall 2020. Updates to the public will be announced later this month.