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Snyder: Carthage College professor discovers 'an odd blessing' of COVID-19 theater
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Theater at Carthage College

Snyder: Carthage College professor discovers 'an odd blessing' of COVID-19 theater


You don’t have to tell us the coronavirus pandemic is upending lives.

Aside from the very serious health consequences, COVID-19 has changed the way schools operate, silenced many live music venues and turned Lambeau Field (gasp!) into a ghost town.

It’s no different at Carthage College, where the Theater Department carries on with a full slate of fall semester productions.

The only thing missing is the general public.

The college’s shows are open only to Carthage staffers and students, but even that small audience — limited to 40 people inside a 350-seat theater — feels like a blessing to Professor Neil Kristian Scharnick, who directed the first show, “Puffs.” The show is an unauthorized riff on the “Harry Potter” books, focusing on those everyday students at Hogwarts who aren’t saving the world.

“The fact that shows are happening at all is a real testament to the commitment of the department and the college’s commitment to doing it right,” Scharnick said. “We cast the show virtually last spring in the hopes that things would be better in the fall, and there were a lot of times along the way I thought this wouldn’t happen at all.”

Still, Scharnick found “an odd blessing” in working under these circumstances.

“This is about as much fun as I’ve had working on a show,” he said. “We knew an audience might never see this, so we all had a good time rehearsing and working on the show. It allowed us to really enjoy each other and celebrate that we were able to do this when so many theaters are closed.”

The show was staged in a way to maintain social distancing, and the actors all wore masks. Also, props and costume pieces were not shared.

Of course, it’s difficult to perform a live show and keep the actors apart the whole time. Enter: Anonymous Student ... who was actually made of cardboard.

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“This is a play about a bunch of huggers,” Scharnick explained. “We added a cardboard cutout who doesn’t even have a name but just stands there, smiling. That allows us to have actors next to each other. It’s actually quite funny and allowed us to create a lot of gags along the way.”

Virtual rehearsals

Before taking the stage, the cast rehearsed over Zoom meetings for a few weeks, which Scharnick said isn’t ideal but at least kept them in contact during the late summer.

Those Zoom rehearsals also allowed them “to quickly work at full speed once we got on stage.”

Besides the social distancing and masking, the amount of cleaning and disinfecting of props, costumes and the auditorium “is a great deal more than is typical,” Scharnick said. “There was tons of cleaning.”

“Puffs” ended its run Oct. 10, and plans for live streaming the show for the public were scuttled when the streaming rights couldn’t be secured.

Still, Scharnick comes away with good vibes from the experience.

“When we thought we were just working on the show for ourselves, we remembered that your castmates are an audience, too, and that opened us up to having fun and making things up on the stage. We had the opportunity to bring a smile to someone and have fun. Now I hope I can carry forward the sensibility that every day I’m in a theater performing, it’s an opportunity for us to enjoy each other and entertain each other.”

Going forward, Carthage’s fall semester productions — which include a dance show, a commissioned play and a new play Carthage students are devising with a guest director — will all be live streamed for the public for viewing from home (or wherever you find decent Wi-Fi).

PHOTOS: Lincoln Park Live: Betsy Ade & the Well-Known Strangers

Betsy Ade & the Well-Known Strangers — a band made up of Ade on vocals, Cameron Fair on cello and piano, Brittany Lumley playing multiple instruments and backing vocals, Roger Gower Jr. on drums, John Kulas on the bass and Joe Adamek on lead guitar — played a two-hour set at the latest installment of Lincoln Park Live in Lincoln Park, 6900 18th Ave., on Tuesday, July 17.

Here are a roundup of photos of the band performing at the event. 

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Betsy Ade and Well Known Strangers will perform at the Ranger Romp, beginning at 5:30 p.m. March 5 in the UW-Parkside Student Center Ballroom.…

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Joe Adamek and Betsy Ade, seen above performing in Lincoln Park in July of 2019, will be playing outside The Addison today, starting at 2 p.m.

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Betsy Ade and the Well-Known Strangers, seen here performing in Lincoln Park during the summer, are playing a Valentine’s show Friday night at…

“The fact that shows are happening at all is a real testament to the commitment of the department and the college’s commitment to doing it right.” Neil Kristian Scharnick,

Carthage College professor

Have a question or a comment? Email Liz at or call her at 262-656-6271.

"The fact that shows are happening at all is a real testament to the commitment of the department and the college's commitment to doing it right."

Neil Kristian Scharnick, Carthage College professor

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