Schuster’s ‘The Grown-Up’ to hit Zoom Thursday


Morgan Schmitt, staff writer

With COVID-19 running rampant, most college activities have been put on hold. However, one club taking this pandemic in stride is the Schuster Theatre. The stage is still empty, and the seats deserted, but the show must go on. Digital theater is now taking center stage as the actors reinvent what it means to immerse their audience in a story.
Their debut digital play is called “The Grown-Up,” and it is about a boy who receives a crystal doorknob from his grandfather. He uses this doorknob to travel into the future but finds each jump more depressing than the last as he realizes life is going by too quickly. We all tend to feel this way, which is why “The Grown-Up” is a promising story and a fantastic choice for testing a new form of theater.
I sat down with Alaina Manchester, an assistant professor in the theatre program and director of “The Grown-Up,” to see how the theater and the production have been impacted by the pandemic.
Schmitt: How has COVID-19 changed the theater?
Manchester: Theater is in a phase of innovation! We are not going away; each new technology was thought to be the death harbinger of theater, but theater artists are flexible. When film showed up, we used it. When another tech came along, we used it. Now we are doing digital theater. We are playing with that line between immersive storytelling, LARPing, radio drama, staged reading, television, movies, animation and theater. This production is a radio-play, which means that it is something like a staged reading; however, we are also playing with that medium and blurring the line between radio drama and theater!
MS: What is this show about?
AM: This show is about a young boy who discovers he can travel through time. It is also about a group of actors portraying this story. And there is the story of a pirate ship lost at sea. Also, a woman goes looking for her brother. The production highlights how all these intertwined stories expose the human need for storytelling and connection.
MS: Is there anything the audience should be excited about?
AM: The audience gets to decide if the story is real or made up. They also get to decide if the radio show itself is real or made up. Also, it is fun to see how these actors use the technology that we created to make a new theatrical form. And then, they play with that form. Also, the story has pirates and swearing, and LGBTQIA+ representation, plus adult moments and themes; it feels fresh and daring. It also may not be for all audiences.
MS: How does rehearsal and costuming work with social distancing?
AM: Each actor has their own room located within the Schuster Theatre. They are the only people to be in these rooms as the rooms are locked throughout the day. They enter the building in masks, go to their personal room, and then they can remove their mask once the door is shut. After the rehearsals/performance, they wipe down their room.
These ZOOM-rooms are equipped with internet hookups (you need to plug into a cable to do digital theater or things get glitchy fast). Each room has a USB mic for just that actor as well as numerous lighting instruments. The actors provide their own laptops. The actors are not just acting, but also have become light and soundboard operators. The play is a radio play with live foley or sound effect creation so there are not so many props as there are a ton of sound-making items. I believe their ZOOM-rooms will also serve as their individual dressing rooms.
MS: What are your goals for this acting season?
AM: My goal is to continue to provide a space for students where informed consent is key, flexibility and boundaries are both respected, and creative risks can safely be explored. These are interesting times. Theater artists are tenacious people. We will continue to find ways to hold the mirror up to society and tell stories! And we will respect our storytellers- both on and off the “stage” while we do it.
As Manchester has expounded upon, acting in a show is now much more than memorizing lines and cues. It is about lights, makeup and sound, becoming a true jack-of-all-trades. “The Grown-Up” has some expectations to fill as audiences are accustomed to the ambiance of a theater and the thrill of the stage, but this show is promising to achieve new heights that in-person theater hasn’t dared to try.
“The Grown-Up” is set to debut at 8 p.m. Thursday. The dates are as follows: 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, Oct. 22-24 and 2 p.m. on Oct. 25.
Tickets can be purchased at for $5 each and will be airing as a digital-radio play.