CENTRE COUNTY, Pa. (WTAJ) — Broadway theaters have been dark for almost one year now, and performance companies around the world have suffered due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, students in the Penn State School of Theatre aren’t giving up.
They’ve decided to build their own stage through a new medium that’s accessible from anywhere and requires zero contact.
“As soon as we knew that live performance was going to shut down we, you know, we are ‘Penn State Centre Stage’… we instantly pivoted to ‘Penn State Center Stage Virtual’,” says Rick Lombardo, director of the Penn State School of Theatre.
The School of Theatre has produced its first-ever audio drama.
“People love podcasts these days, people are following audio dramas, it’s a growing trend,” says Lombardo.
He says this is a way to give students experience in a medium they may encounter again during their careers.
Penn State instructor of voice and speech, Steven Rimke, proposed Harlem Queen for the audio drama.
“It’s important for theatre, I think, to reflect life and society,” says Rimke, co-director of Harlem Queen.
As our country grew through the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020, Lombardo says, “We’ve really wanted to find a way to center more Black stories and more Black voices.”
Highlighting Black stories is the focus of Harlem Queen.
“Stephanie St. Clair, who was a real person, born in Guadalupe and then moved to New York City, was a Black rights activist,” says Rimke.
They say this production also gave students of color an opportunity to see themselves represented. Plus, they had the opportunity to work with a guest co-director, Yhane Washington Smith, who is also the playwright of Harlem Queen.
The audio drama premiered this February during black history month, and is available online.
“I think is just a wonderful opportunity to also allow our audience to learn about a Black story that they may not have ever known about before,” says Lombardo.
Usually, actors feed off the energy of their partner, but for this audio drama students recorded their lines alone from wherever they were working remotely. The lines were edited together with music and sound effects from 1920’s Harlem and the production was complete.