Oral Roberts University’s Theatre Department performed “Radium Girls” for their first play of the fall semester in the midst of a global pandemic.
“Radium Girls,” set in New Jersey in 1926, tells the story of workers at the U.S Radium Corporation who fall victim to a mystery illness. Inspired by true events, the story follows Grace Fryer as she fights for her day in court against the goliath U.S Radium Corporation. As the pressure increases, Grace finds her battle is, not only with the corporation, but also with her friends, family and the public.
ORU professor Norah Swiney directed this uniquely executed production. From the very beginning of rehearsals to the final performance, COVID-19 affected every step of the students’ creative process. Auditions were held in Howard Auditorium with Swiney tuning in through an iPad via Zoom that was placed where she normally sits in the auditorium. Everyone attending the audition had a reserved section to reduce the amount of people in the shared space.
Callbacks were done through Zoom from the comfort of each student’s dorm room. After the cast list was sent out, the only time they met in person was for a read through. The read through was on Howard stage with masks and social distancing.
Wesley Houts, who played Arthur Roeder, is a senior pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Acting. In the play, Arthur Roeder is the president of the U.S. Radium Corporation which finds itself in a bind when the female workers begin to mysteriously fall ill.
“This [pandemic] affected us in almost every aspect when it comes to acting and storytelling,” comments Houts.
Taylor Conlon, a senior pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Musical Theatre, played Nancy Jane Harlan, the clerk and the elderly widow.
“Doing an entire show through Zoom was a brand new experience for all of us and it presented a lot of challenges,” stated Conlon. “My biggest struggle was staring directly into the camera instead of into the eyes of another person. It’s easier to create a connection or fight for what you want when there’s a physical person in front of you.”
The ORU Theatre Department beautifully embraced the change in this challenging season. From the very beginning, they decided to take an extra step when trying to protect each student’s health. In the end, the ORU Theatre Department showed unique ways everyone can learn and adapt to their new environment.
“The success of this style of theatre, I think, will inspire more productions like this. It can bring together actors and designers and directors from all over the world while allowing them to stay home. That’s incredible,” Houts considers. “Though nothing can replace the power of live, in-person theatre, this may just be what we need in these trying times.”
The ORU community has been fascinated by the ORU Theatre Department creative way of not giving up when they easily could have.