What does a theater director do when a pandemic prevents in-person play production?
Watch now: Rosina Whitfield to take her final bow at Creative Greensboro
“At first, I was like, ‘How do you do a play on Zoom?’” recalled Rosina Whitfield, drama specialist for Creative Greensboro. “’That’s crazy!’”
But she did it.
For a year, play directors and technical crews around the world have faced that challenge, as the COVID-19 pandemic drove performing arts online.
Now, Whitfield directs her fourth play presented in Zoom video conferencing for the city’s theater program under its Office of Arts and Culture.
On Saturday and Sunday, 19 local teen actors directed by Whitfield will present the comedy, “The Internet is a Distract–Oh Look, There’s a Kitten.”
This will be Whitfield’s last play with the city. Now 66, she will retire at month’s end, after nearly 16 years in her post.
She and her husband, Dan, will move to Oak Island.
She’s not leaving theater, though. She has offered her directorial skills to Brunswick Little Theatre in Southport.
Whitfield calls her 16 years with the city “amazing.”
“There have been ups and downs, of course,” she said. “But overall, I feel incredibly blessed and lucky that I got a full-time job doing theater. And I’m getting a pension. That kind of longevity to do something like theater is incredibly rare.”
She freelanced in the D.C. area until becoming a mother to son Skyler. Needing a full-time job, she joined York Little Theater in Pennsylvania.
Since arriving in Greensboro in 2005, Whitfield has seen changes in her job titles and city program. The Drama Center, the Music Center and City Arts are now Creative Greensboro.
“Stephen was very ill for the last couple years of his life,” Whitfield said. “He soldiered on. He was obviously in pain. I admired the fact that he never gave up.”
But Whitfield’s work has continued: directing children, teens and adults with an interest in making theater.
She also ran the education program, including summer camps.
“My goal isn’t to create professional actors,” she said. “If that happens, that’s great.”
She hasn’t sent any young actors to Broadway yet. But some are in California, trying to break into screen acting. Others study theater in college.
“Drama kids are unique,” she said. “They have an energy that other kids don’t have, and it’s really a challenge to channel that energy.”
“What we did in rehearsals was for them to have a good time, and learn and be disciplined theater people, which will benefit them in whatever they do,” Whitfield said. “You can go to an interview with confidence. You can fudge an answer because you can act. You can learn presentation skills. If you become a lawyer or teacher, you learn how to present yourself.”
Now 14, she last acted in Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” in May, the first virtual play that Whitfield directed after the pandemic struck.
One of the first few times they met, Jai recalled, Whitfield screamed at her.
“I got happy because I knew, ‘She cares about me. She noticed me,’” Jai said.
“From then on, when I wasn’t upset when she screamed, she started being super nice and friendly,” Jai added. “Right after that is when she gave me some lines. She wanted to test my chops.”
“I really look up to her,” Jai said. “And I enjoy her presence. She kind of reminds me of my mom, kind of like a tough love.”
Matt Adams acted in Whitfield’s first play after her arrival.
“She has consistently led theater, especially for kids, with a love for the art and the ability to control a room of loud and unruly theater kids,” Adams said.
Now he’s 30, has a 3-year-old son, and taught acting and directed plays pre-pandemic.
He directed the children’s musical “Rainbow Fish” last year, until the pandemic shut it down.
Whitfield, Adams said, “has been a huge influence in my life as an artist.”
Ryan Deal, who leads Creative Greensboro, praised Whitfield for enriching the community’s creative life.
“Rosina has led the way on scores of programs that have made theater accessible and exciting no matter the age or experience level of the participant,” Deal said.
For now, Whitfield focuses on this weekend’s play.
She discovered “The Internet is a Distract–Oh Look, There’s a Kitten,” a modern play by Ian McWethy while browsing scripts online.
It was written for Zoom, she said, “which makes my job a little easier than trying to adapt a play for Zoom that was not meant for Zoom. Although I think I have done that successfully as well.”
They appear as high school student Micah Burke (played by Kassidy Backhus) tries to finish her paper on “The Great Gatsby.”
Yes, Whitfield and her young actors clearly miss seeing each other in person. But virtual plays enable live theater to go on.
Grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles in other states normally might not travel to see shows. But they can watch online.
When live plays return, offering livestream tickets to out-of-town folks should stay, she said.
In the meantime, “We are keeping kids and adults engaged in theater,” Whitfield said. “I think that’s really important.”