Dakota Gerhold, an Oakland University senior from White Lake, dances along with OU seniors Victoria Poirier, of Sterling Heights, and Katie Kirkum, of Shelby Township, during the OU Outside the Box festival April 9.

Dakota Gerhold, an Oakland University senior from White Lake, dances along with OU seniors Victoria Poirier, of Sterling Heights, and Katie Kirkum, of Shelby Township, during the OU Outside the Box festival April 9.

Photo by Deb Jacques

New performing arts festival brings entertainment, audiences outside

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published April 22, 2021


ROCHESTER — Oakland University’s school of music, theater and dance is wowing audiences with a new performing arts festival after over a year of mainly virtual events due to COVID-19.

The university recently unveiled its new outdoor stage for the “OU Outside the Box” festival, which features a host of performances by students, artists-in-residence and faculty outside on the OU campus through June 27.

Due to COVID-19 protocols, indoor performance experiences are limited at OU, so theater professor Karen Sheridan said organizers started talking about the possibility of doing something outside about a year ago.

“We didn’t know what was going to happen with COVID, so we wanted to explore the potential of being able to get people to come and see live work and keep our students safe while they did it,” she said. “Certainly, this has never been done before, because we didn’t have a reason. … We want to be safe, because that is the most important thing.”

Throughout the pandemic, Ali Woerner, an associate professor of dance and a member of the Season Planning Committee, said the school has been involved in mostly virtual classes and performances.

“It’s not the same as being in person. … There’s a connection there that’s a visceral connection that doesn’t exist in the same way if you’re doing it through a screen,” she said. “So we were determined to figure out how we could do that in the safest and best way.”

Crews constructed a brand-new outdoor stage outside the recital hall at Varner Hall with flexible, socially distanced seating — portable chairs in the grass.

“The stage didn’t exist before this,” Woerner said. “We can have all of the audience members seated in the grassy area — with social distancing and all that applies there — and actually feel like they are in a outdoor theater setup, which I think is now going to be the new normal, if you will, at least for now, for a lot of performing.”

Amy Hardison Tully, the director of the School of Music, Theatre and Dance, said she is excited to have the opportunity to safely showcase students and put their work front and center in the performing arts series.

The festival, according to Woerner, has a spectacular lineup of events.

“There’s everything from music — concerts and operas — to theater and stage readings to musical theater and dance performances. You could just sit at Varner from now until June and get your fill of art,” she said.

Woerner and Sheridan are each directing two performances in the festival.

Woerner’s included the “Senior Dance Concert: Remember, Remember Not” April 19-20 and the upcoming “Take Root Presents SixWord Stories” at 7:30 p.m. May 7 and 2 p.m. May 8.

Sheridan is directing “The Servant of Two Masters,” a matinee comedy at 2 p.m. April 24-25 and May 1-2.

“It’s about a man who thinks that if he could get away with serving two different people, he would have twice the money and twice the food to look forward to. Of course, that does not work out well for him, but he does end up winning in the end, so it’s a very funny, family-friendly piece,” she said.

She is also directing “The Mountaintop,” a fictional depiction of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s last night on earth, at 9:30 p.m. May 1.

Additional upcoming April performances include:
• “Young Choreographers Forum,” 7 p.m. April 22-24.
• “Choreography II Performances,” 2 p.m. April 23.
• “Instrumental Ensembles Concert,” 5:30 p.m. April 25.  
• “Exes,” 2 p.m. April 29.
• “How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying,” 7 p.m. April 29-30 and May 1-2.

All events, including those that are free, require an advanced ticket purchase/reservation at www.etix.com/ticket/v/18543/varner-courtyard-oakland-university. Tickets may be printed at home or presented on mobile devices at the door.

For a complete list of performances through June 27, ticketing information and required safety protocols, visit oakland.edu/smtd. For more information, email smtdboxoffice@oakland.edu.

This event is made possible through the support of Butzel Long, Cabaret 313 and the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation.