Pitt State Theatre, PSU Multimedia students collaborate to create first virtual production for remote audiences

  Tuesday, October 6, 2020 3:00 PM
  People and Society, News, Academics, Arts & Entertainment, Milestones

Pittsburg, KS


It’s been six long months since Kathryn Huffman has been on stage or behind it — the longest stretch she’s been without it since age 5, when theater became her passion.  

“It felt awful, not being in a show, or helping with one, or even seeing one,” she said. 

Huffman, a senior at Pittsburg State University, began her final academic year knowing it was her last chance to be part of a production as a student; in May, she will graduate with a degree in communication education and pursue her dream of teaching speech and theater. 

“My heart would have sunk if they would have announced we couldn’t produce a show,” she said. “That has happened to friends at other universities." 

Huffman, Carl Junction High School graduate, grew up in the world of theater in Southwest Missouri. She was involved in productions by Joplin Little Theatrewas president of the thespian troupe at CJHand eventually found a home with the Pitt State Theatre Company. 

Here, she has been involved in productions all four years, from acting to makeup to costumes. Last February, just before shelter-in-place orders, she played a principal role in the poignant show Silent Sky, which brought to life the story of 19th Century astronomer Henrietta Leavitt. 

She was elated, therefore, when Megan Westhoff, the director of the university’s theater program, announced theater would happen after all — it would just look and feel a bit different.  

“It feels so good to be part of a production again,” Huffman said. “The ability to do theater means so much. There’s nothing like the feeling of doing a show.” 

A partnership 

The solution: Collaborate with students in PSU’s multi-media program to perform, record, and stream a show online that could be attended virtually, from anywhere, through the university’s online channels. 

The bonus: those multi-media students would gain hands-on video and broadcasting skills — something they originally thought they’d miss out on when PSU's football season was first canceled. 

“We asked ourselves ‘How do we stay safe?’, ‘How do we prepare students for these fields?’, and how do we reach audiences when we can’t bring people into a room?’,” Westhoff said. “We wanted to keep the project within the Communication Department family, and this seemed logical. It will give our students in theater the chance to perform and be seen, and our multi-media students the chance to perfect their skills for their future careers.” 

Senior Caleb Wuthnow, of Newton, Kansas, falls in the latter category. 

I think it will be great on résumés, and I think it shows that not only are we a very good department as far as getting hands on, but we are adaptable,” he said. “We can see a situation and be like, ‘OK, how we’ve done this for the last 10 years is different,’ but we’re not going to let that stop us and just sit and mope.  

We’re going to be safe, but we’re also going to be proactive and get our student out there and get hands-on experience. 


To do so, Pitt State Theatre needed to make an adjustment: change the show from what had been planned — a chilling and creepy production called “Poe’s Midnight Dreary,” based on the writings of Edgar Allan Poe — to one that could be done as a staged reading with minimal movement, and one that could be broadcast with no copyright infringement 

The choiceThe Bacchae, a Greek tragedy that is generations old. It centers on the story of the spurned god Dionysus returning home to Thebes seeking revenge against the new King Pentheus.  

Not surprisingly, Director Linden Little chose a modern twist: it’s conceived as a staged reading in a rock ‘n’ roll style, his reimagining envisions the god Dionysus as a pop star begging for the adoration of his hometown. 

Huffman was cast as Agave, Petheus’ mother. 

Silver linings 

The experience is pushing theater into a place it needed to go, Westhoff said. 

In the world of theater, none of us had really yet talked about virtual performances, and this is a chance,” she said. “It can be a way to show what we do to prospective students, to families of cast and crew who are at a distance, to alumni who can’t be here in person — even to people who are local but who are homebound. 

For Huffman, a virtual performance means something very personal. 

“My grandpa lives in Monett, Missouri, but he is suffering from prostate cancer, and he hasn’t been able to come to my last several shows. It will be the first show of mine in a long time that he’ll be able to see,” Huffman said. “And I have family who live in New York, in California, who have never gotten to watch any of my shows. I’m really, really excited about it. It will give theall an opportunity they would never have had otherwise.” 

"Maybe this is the new way of doing theatre and COVID is forcing us to explore it. Theater has been the same way, stagnant, for a long time. For people who have trouble being in a theater for any reason, physical, emotional, or mental, this is empowering. We’re bringing it to everyone now.”  

Noah Smith, a senior theater major from St. Paul, Kansas, is grateful for the chance to have one more production under his belt before graduating. He dreams of going into the business and has been involved in every show at PSU since 2017, from running lights to designing sets to acting. 

He was cast as one of a trio of messengers. 

“I’m happy to be able to work in a theatrical production no matter how it’s done. It’s what I’m going to school for and it helps me for my final portfolio,” he said. “I don’t care what medium is used, or what precautions and regulations we have to follow, if you give me a role, I’ll try my best to bring it to life. The show must go on.” 


The cast also includes Owen Gray (Diamond, Missouri), Ryan Hightower (Oologah, Oklahoma), Josh Ramsey (Altamont, Kansas), Ryan Bennett (Overland Park, Kansas), James Phillips (Chelsea, Oklahoma), Miranda Madden (Pittsburg, Kansas), Jenna Russell (Oswego, Kansas), and Trevor Schoenhofer (Erie, Kansas).  

The production will be available for viewing online from Oct. 22-25. Tickets may be reserved by calling the PSU Ticket Office at 620-235-4796. Ticket prices are $6 for the general public or free with a valid PSU photo ID. Once patrons purchase a ticket, they will be given further instructions on how to view the production online.

Learn more about PSU's Department of Communication: www.pittstate.edu/communication