WIU’s Theatre & Dance Department hosts first-ever outdoor show

Audience members listen to a performance of “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair” from the 1949 musical South Pacific as part of the WIUSO musical event on Oct. 4.

By JENNA SKARLUPKA, News Reporter

MACOMB, Ill. (NEWS3) – The WIUSO musical event held Sept. 30 to Oct. 4 in the Browne Hall parking lot at Western Illinois University took ideas from the past to adapt to the COVID-19 regulations of today. 

Audience members sat in cars or nearby chairs in a drive-in style and heard a variety of radio and musical songs from the 1940s to 1960s. 

“It needs to be outside and it needs to be simple,” Lysa Fox, WIU Theatre & Dance Professor, said. “My brain kind of went to the old school Bob Hope USO shows that have an empty stage almost, and just really great, fun acts.”

Fox said that while setting up the show was difficult, she’s now confident that more outdoor shows will take place in the future.

“It absolutely has been a Herculean task,” Fox said. “Now that we’ve done it once, it certainly kind of lends itself to what can this look like again.”

In addition to a few comedic acts, the show included songs from the musicals the “South Pacific,” “Hair,” and “Dog Fight” (the original performance replaced by this event). Other songs included Elvis Presley’s, “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” The Beatles’s, “Penny Lane,” and Billie Holiday’s, “I’ll Be Seeing You,” a staple of Bob Hope’s USO shows. Fox said that the song choices were based on what the audience would be able to sing or hum along to, as the performers also were required to wear masks.

“There are some things lost in the mask,” Fox said. “We really do look at each other’s mouths when we talk to really understand them.”

The biggest challenge was choreographing a socially distanced show, especially since many 1950s numbers include couples dancing close together. Fox said that Donald Lamey, the show’s choreographer, planned the numbers in an appealing way.

“He’s done a fantastic job of just finding really palatable things for the students to work on and still big enough to fill an outdoor space,” Fox said.

Ultimately, Fox wanted the show to provide escapism and relief to audience members during the pandemic, and it has already received positive feedback.

“The response I’ve gotten from people who have seen it, they’ve just said ‘It was fun, I sang along, it was just a great night, it gave me hope,’” Fox said. “and I was like, great. We’ve done our job.”