Barry McNamara  |  Published September 14, 2020

The Show Will Go On

FusionFest VII, Monmouth College’s annual 24-hour theatre festival, to be held on Wallace Hall Plaza at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 19.

MONMOUTH, Ill. – During any academic year, Monmouth College’s FusionFest event represents a way for students to return to their roots in theatre. During an academic year with a pandemic, a return to roots is even more the case.

FusionFest VII: To be staged outdoors for first time in event's seven-year history. FusionFest VII: To be staged outdoors for first time in event's seven-year history.“One of the great benefits of FusionFest is that it’s meant to be fun,” said Monmouth theatre professor Vanessa Campagna of the annual 24-hour event, which will conclude with a 7:30 p.m. performance Sept. 19. “When we are working on a full-length production, the process is always important in academic theatre. The entire process needs to be intentional. There’s a certain caliber of acting that we are looking for in the students’ work.”

The playwrights, directors, actors – and, for the first time in the event’s seven years, scenic designers – at FusionFest are under far fewer restraints, other than a ticking clock as they work to bring brand new 10-minute plays to the stage.

“FusionFest allows the students just to breathe into the art and to remember why they’re studying it and to have fun with it without this pressure of product,” said Campagna. “Young people really need to be reminded that they can have permission in life and in art to do it for the enjoyment of it.”

FusionFest VII will begin with a one-hour kickoff event for the theatre team at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 18.

“We bring everyone together, and the writers are assigned their creative teams at that point,” said Campagna. “So the playwrights know who the director is and who the actors are for which they are writing characters.”

Move to Wallace Hall Plaza

The playwrights then begin their job, working into the wee hours of the morning to create their work. The short plays are printed by 7:30 a.m. and the directors and actors get the scripts “hot off the press.” They have approximately 12 hours to rehearse until the curtain goes up at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 19 and “we put these six new works in front of a live audience,” said Campagna.

This year, that live audience will be seated on Wallace Hall Plaza, rather than at the College’s downtown Fusion Theatre, from which the event draws its name. Although the venue is a new one for the festival, an outdoor production is by no means new to theatre.

Campagna said indoor spaces weren’t utilized in theatre until around 500 years ago during the Italian Renaissance. Staging productions outdoors was the norm for roughly 2,000 years.

“We’re not at Fusion Theatre because we wanted to keep the performances completely outdoors,” said Campagna of the safety precautions necessary because of the COVID-19 pandemic. “We’ll be using the stage that’s employed at Wallace Hall for Matriculation and Commencement. The audience will be socially distanced, with the seats placed at least six feet apart. The audience and actors will be in masks the entire time.”

‘Theatre will persist’

When the pandemic hit last spring, Campagna was busy preparing to direct an April performance of The Revolutionists. That production was canceled – it will instead be staged at a later date – but with more time now to prepare, she and her theatre department colleagues are working around the new normal this fall.

“This time, we’re not going to do the hiatus,” she said. “We feel like we’ve had enough time to adjust to the realities that we’re living in, so theatre will persist. It’s just going to look a little bit different.”

Like the rest of the world, the College’s theatre department has had to adjust on the fly during the pandemic.

VANESSA CAMPAGNA: We're living the liberal arts mission through things like FusionFest.... VANESSA CAMPAGNA: "We're living the liberal arts mission through things like FusionFest."“Constraint breeds creativity, or it can if you just accept your circumstances,” said Campagna. “In the theatre department, that’s our approach to everything COVID-19 – let’s keep everybody safe, let’s work within all the health protocols, but let’s also still produce and let this fuel us to reimagine things and stretch – and revamp, as need be.”

Each year, FusionFest serves as an icebreaker or warm-up of sorts, getting theatre students ready for the coming year while introducing non-majors to the possibilities of theatre.

“The practical advantage of FusionFest is that it costs virtually no money – no rights or royalties need paid,” said Campagna. “It’s also really important to give students opportunities to be well-rounded in all areas of theatre practice. Getting these opportunities to direct – even before they’ve taken a directing class, often – or one more chance to act, or a chance to write a brand new play, or a chance to serve on the crew. The more opportunities we can give students, the better. We’re living the liberal arts mission through things like FusionFest.”

Listen Up …

Vanessa Campagna discusses FusionFest VII on the 1853 Podcast.

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