On March 7, 2020, Deborah Steinberger and her French Theater Workshop (FREN456) students were in Philadelphia, enjoying a French-language production of Leonard Nimoy’s play Vincent, about the painter Vincent Van Gogh. The students took notes on features they hoped to incorporate into their own upcoming theater production, Citron bleu, a one-act art-themed comedy by the French author Patrick de Bouter. In class that week, as they began to rehearse their show, they discussed the logistics of projecting English subtitles and images of paintings, and concluding with a post-show discussion between the cast and audience members, as had been done in Vincent.

A few days later, in response to the coronavirus pandemic, UD made the decision to move all instruction online. With a live, in-person performance now an impossibility, the students of FREN456 had to adapt their play and its preparation to the online environment. Given Citron bleu‘s strong visual component—it deals with art, and takes place at an art show—the group felt strongly that only a fully audiovisual experience would suffice. They also very much wanted the excitement of performing live. 

 

So, the group decided to perform their play in real time, via Zoom. Rehearsals went smoothly; using breakout rooms, students were able to work on different scenes simultaneously, and reconvene at the click of a button. The stage setting was a virtual background shared by all the cast members. To make the performance accessible to non-French speakers, the students translated the play, and used the screen share function to project their subtitles using a Power Point that also contained the various works of art the characters view and discuss during the play. The split-screen function allowed spectators to view the visuals and the actors simultaneously. 

The performance took place on May 11, with an audience of over sixty people, including faculty, friends, family from near and far, and even the play’s author, zooming in from France. After the show, audience members were invited to participate in a “talk-back” session, conversing with the actors and director. The performance was recorded, and post-production editing yielded a polished video for the students to keep and share.

The ten student actors welcomed the challenges of creating the play via Zoom, and were pleased with the final product. 

According to Hayley Whiting, junior, double-major in English Education and French, “It was rewarding to adapt to an online format and investigate different Zoom features to create a successful live performance. At the end, it was nice to be able to see audience members’ comments in the chat. It was also great to gather audience members from different time zones or locations who might not have been able to see the play otherwise. Overall, it was fulfilling to see our play come to life, even if we couldn’t perform it in person!” 

Deborah Steinberger Associate Professor , Languages Literatures Cultures Associate Professor , Comparative Literature Associate Chairperson , Languages Literatures Cultures

Sarah Reynolds, senior, double major in French and History, agreed, “Performing our play over Zoom brought out the creativity in us all, and we really bonded. I still wish we all could have been together, but I’m absolutely in love with our final product.” 

Emma Thieke, senior, Three Language major, added, “I am quite proud of my classmates for taking a negative situation like this and finding all the bright sides.” 

Professor Deborah Steinberger concludes, “Adapting Citron bleu to Zoom was a real adventure, but thanks to the ingenuity and determination of my students, it was an enjoyable and inspiring experience. Heartfelt thanks to Stacy Weile and the other pros at Faculty Commons for answering my countless questions!”

Written and submitted by Deborah Steinberger.

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