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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

“Working: A Musical” Offers Viewers Drive-In and Pod-Seating Options

By Joe Garvey

People of a certain age probably recall going to a drive-in theater to watch a movie on a big screen outdoors.

ODURep, the production arm of Old Dominion University's theater program, and ODU Opera adapted that concept for their live, pandemic-era production of "Working: A Musical," which is scheduled to open a four-day run at Brock Commons on April 15.

Socially distant pod seating will be available on the Brock Commons plaza for people to watch the shows outside, with masks required. But most attendees will probably view it from their cars. They will enter Monarch Way from 45th Street (46th and 47th streets will be closed).

ODU technical theater students and Warehouse of Theatre, a multimedia company, are collaborating on creating large screens and staging elements. Audio will be broadcast on 97.1 FM.

Performances will begin at 8 each night. Tickets are free but must be reserved in advance at ODUArtsTix.com.

Helene Clehr of the Department of Communication and Theatre Arts reports that demand has been brisk. She said additional pods, which can provide seating for up to six people who feel comfortable sharing a space, have been added to try to accommodate the number of ticket requests. More drive-in options are available, but Saturday night is almost fully booked.

Katherine A. Hammond, associate professor and associate chair in the Department ofCommunication and Theatre Arts and the production's director, said the creative team has been working on the project since September.

She said a Zoom production was an option, "but it is nothing like attending an event."

She felt Brock Commons - located where Monarch Way dead-ends with 47th Street - would make a great parking area for cars. And having the performances outside with a small cast and crew allowed for "all the aspects of a musical in a communal yet distanced manner."

Safety of the performers, technical workers and audience was a primary focus for the creative team, which in addition to Hammond consisted of Brian Nedvin (music director), Woody Robinson (set and lights), Lee Smith (projections/live video feed), Ricardo Melendez (choreography), Meredith Magoun (costumes), Justin McLawhorn (sound), Jim Lyden (technical director) and Chris Hanna (producer).

"We spent a lot of time working to give everyone a 'nest' to call home - to allow them space to work comfortably in the theater - without being too social," Hammond said. "And that was difficult. Wewant to be together, but we all understood that being physically apart in the process was the way we could make a show happen."

There were other challenges, such as weather - "in Hampton Roads, wind is a hurdle," Hammond said - and, to the creative team's surprise, electricity.

"While we planned how to make our lighting, sound and projections mobile, we discovered that with all the wonderful technology that our theater has, the performance space doesn't really have adequate power to operate all of the technical equipment we are using," Hammond said. "We never really expected electricity to be a hurdle - but there you are!"

ODU facilities management and construction personnel quickly provided an electrical distribution box to address the issue.

Cullen Strawn, executive director for the arts, and McLawhorn, Goode Theatre facility manager, coordinated with ODU Police on parking and street closures.

ODU's production of "Working," based on the book by Studs Terkel, is intended to recognize often unsung essential workers, whom we have become more dependent upon during the pandemic.

"I really wanted to do something that was celebratory," Hammond said. "It is also a labor of love - of live theater, of what we do, our own work. As faculty, one thing talked about a lot is collaborating with our amazing ODU students so they had the opportunity to continue working on their craft - both the performance and technology students - and that is hands-on labor. We wanted them to have the opportunity to do a show. And for some of them, this will be their last show at ODU before they graduate.

"As a team, we've collectively spent thousands of hours figuring out how to do this, and we are delighted to bring live theater to ODU."

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