SOTA performs online

Gabrielle Ghaderi

SOTA’s promotional poster for Wilderness, their first show of the season which will be available via pay-per-view streaming October 2-4.
Photo: Illinois Wesleyan School of Theatre Arts 

For the first time ever, IWU’s School of Theatre Arts is bringing theatre to your living room with their upcoming production of Wilderness.

Wilderness, directed by Laura Hackman, is a piece of documentary theatre that explores mental health, addiction and gender and sexual identity through the lens of wilderness therapy, a form of treatment that relies on expeditions into the wilderness and unfamiliar territory. 

The play, by Seth Bockley and Anne Hamburger, follows the stories of six teenagers in a wilderness program in Utah and their struggle with mental illness, and is based on interviews with real families and people who work in wilderness therapy 

Also included in the production are interview sequences with the parents of the teenagers that are interspersed between scenes. 

The result is a beautifully crafted multimedia drama that speaks to our yearning for hope and belonging in the world. 

“The result is a beautifully crafted multimedia drama that speaks to our yearning for hope and belonging in the world.”

Wilderness therapy is characterized by its focus on exploring uncharted territory, so it is only apt that IWU’s production of Wilderness has also been defined by the unfamiliar. 

Theatre is an art that has previously relied heavily on the ability for large groups of people to share the same space. 

Under our current conditions, such a luxury is not attainable, so actors and members of the creative team were faced with the challenge of producing live theatre in a way no show at IWU has done before. 

Katie Weston, who plays the operator, said, “All the collaborators involved in Wilderness have been incredible at adapting and thriving in these uncertain times.”

In previous seasons, IWU’s productions involved the cast, crew and audience all collaborating in the same space. 

For Wilderness, those involved had to find ways to include all those elements in a new way. 

The solution? 

A pre-recorded live stream that audience members can enjoy in the comfort of their own home. 

The recording took place over the span of three days, replacing the audience with a camera crew to capture the performances. 

To further reduce the amount of people in the same space, even some cast members were not in the theatre during filming. 

The dramaturg (the literary editor for the theatre), Anja Schrag, spoke about the rehearsal aspect of the show, “The first couple weeks of rehearsal were all online, so I didn’t meet the director in person until after that.”

 “At rehearsals I saw that it was more difficult for the actors. I think at times it was very frustrating for them to have to wear a mask and keep their distance from their counterparts” Schrag said. 

Rather than performing live, actors who played parents recorded their interviews weeks prior to the three-day shoot, which were then projected on stage during live performances. 

Actors performing live wore transparent masks, making their faces almost totally visible, while still being properly covered. 

As the first show of the fall season, Wilderness has pioneered the way for creating live theatre in a responsible way, paving the road for the remaining season.
Wilderness will be available for streaming October 2 through October 4. Tickets are available here.