By: STO Gabriel Brock, Goose Creek Memorial High School, Troupe 8132; STO Folarin Oyeleye, Foster High School, Troupe 7961
The 2020-2021 school year has been one for the history books. Every aspect of school life was flipped on its head, and the UIL season was not any exception. This year One-Act Play and Theatrical Design both saw significant renovations to the contest structure and procedure. While OAP entered its 20th competition year, having to make a significant shift from how the contest functioned in the past, the Theatrical Design’s format played a considerable part in how it operated this year. We sat down (virtually) with Rachael Gomez, the UIL Theatrical Design State Director, and talked with her about how UIL Theatrical Design operated this school year amidst the Covid pandemic.
Q: Theatrical Design is probably the UIL event best suited for operating during Covid because of the event’s format, but how has the contest functioned this year?
A: We knew what our situation was going to be, and we knew it had to be virtual. We set it up in such a way that saved the integrity of the event but kept everyone safe; we wanted it that way. We didn’t have to rent any space, which meant we would be able to really help out other contests financially by making that choice as well. UIL Covid protocols were already going to limit the number of participants. So having OAP and Theatrical Design [in the same venue], would cause extra chaos or people to be on the same site. It just made sense to do it virtual this year.
Q: How would Theatrical Design work at State during an in-person year?
A: At State [during a regular year], you send your stuff in, it goes up on display, and you know what it and everybody elses’ looks like. I haven't been able to turn [the submissions] into a gallery for everybody to be able to see that digital work. You get to see everything. If you go to the State and you get to walk through that gallery. Oh, I just miss that so much. Beautiful. Yes, it’s like looking at a travel brochure instead of being at the site, you know?
Q: Have there been any unique challenges or tribulations faced this year?
A: We had the weather kind of hit. We were all set up to have everybody enter, and then that's when the snowpocalypse came on and that was right at our deadline. Because that was the week before preliminaries were due. The oral aspect, which was introduced two years ago, is probably the one major part of the contest [that would be the hardest logistically to implement]. I don't see how we're gonna be able to Zoom each person in to have 30 seconds with the judge and out. That just sounds logistically, horrible. If we can figure out how to make it happen, we're all for it. It's just the logistics of this. So many kids getting together one at a time. It would take a much more savvy technical person than me to do that.
Q: How have certain aspects, whether preliminary level or the state contest, different from those in previous years?
A: Obviously, last year, we had to make the decision that the state contest was going to be virtual, and this meant that kids couldn’t resubmit updated work. There were some new people that hadn't won before who won. I saw some new names of schools, and it was really fun. This year we saw an increase in [students and sponsors] that had not done it before. We've seen some growth of introducing new people because it was virtual. Another thing is we created a submission template. [It will] have the titles, the UIL logo, etc., and they insert their work into them. All of the judges will see consistent work. This way, we make sure nobody submits anything upside down or sideways. Hopefully, it'll be some new technology that we all learned this year that makes some sense. We also were able to get state judges that we never would’ve been able to get if we were in person because of travel. We have a couple of judges from New York, including a previous Hair and Make state champion who now makes wigs on Broadway and agreed to come. And we wouldn't have had that opportunity if we weren't virtual. We also have another judge who’s a professor at Texas State [University].
Q: How have kids, teachers, and sponsors handled the increased amount of emails due to changes and adding a virtual aspect?
A: I think it hit the hair and makeup kids the hardest. The kids who aren’t as good at the application or not as good at drawing rely on that side of it being the way to show their expertise. It turned out to be the worst year ever for makeup. Some kids were having to put makeup on their little brother because that was the only model they had. I definitely had an increase in emails, a lot of them starting with “Hi, I’m a first-year teacher” or “Hi, this is my first year sponsoring this event,” but the truth is this was like a first-year for everybody. If I have that many people asking it, I need to be more clear in the handbook. We love, love people asking questions.
Q: How has the state office dealt with equity in the contest, not just between schools affected by Covid, but between less and more affluent schools in the state competing?
A: I think that there absolutely needs to be more equity in the UIL contests, and we try our hardest to even out the playing field whenever it comes to theatrical design. Obviously, schools that have fewer resources aren't going to compete at the same caliber as more affluent schools. The school with five theatre directors will be much more capable than the school with a coach who has an off-period that teaches five UIL events. We try to make sure that the contest, as it stands, leaves an opportunity for any kid to place because every kid can have a great idea, it’s just a matter of communicating that idea and putting it on paper. While we can’t make the contest so easy anyone can win, we try to keep it fair and modest.
Q: While we’re over a year out before the next contest, is there any rumbling as to whether or not Theatrical Design 2022 will return in person?
A: That is definitely the plan. We had to stop and deal with the pandemic and everything. All we have to do is get over the speed bump, get through these years, make them as great as we can, and get back on track with the other.
Theatrical Design was not the only UIL Theatre event that had a serious face lift. The One-Act Play competition went through quite a serious overhaul to adjust to the current times, both major and minor: changes to the contest structure like modifications to official tech rehearsals and setup, the nullification of the 1-minute rule, a 10 minute break to allow for any finishing touches, once that ends curtains go up! You still had the usual 7 minute strike, but afterwards a fun twist! Critiques came right after strike, so there's no waiting around until after results. Not only did the individual contest see changes but the entire advancement chain was changed with the elimination of the Area contests, arguably making the contest more competitive. These new guidelines have been vital in ensuring the One-Act Play experience was still enjoyable, but safe first and foremost.
We extend an enormous thanks to everyone who helped the show go on and Rachel Gomez for contributing to this blog. Thank you to OAP companies and Theatrical Designs participants, to Contest Managers and Adjudicators, to the host schools, teachers, and sponsors, as well as the folks in the State office who helped make everything run smoothly.
Your 2020 & 2021 Texas State Thespian Officers