The Williams Baptist University theatre program is once again preparing for its annual production of the “Story Store,” but a new set of challenges has already caused changes to the way the performance is typically conducted.

Melinda Williams, assistant professor of speech, drama, and journalism at WBU, has been doing the production of the “Story Store” for almost 20 years, but this is the first year the theatre program is unable to perform the play with a live audience, due to Covid-19 restrictions. Instead of performing at the Walnut Ridge Community Center like the previous years, the performance will be recorded in the Startup Chapel on the WBU campus and distributed to each school through cloud computing.

“We have faced a number of new challenges this year with our production but the students have been able to meet each and every one of them head-on and find unique ways to still present our production,” Williams said. “We hate that we will not be able to give a live performance, but the ability to record each performance and then send it to the schools will allow the students to watch from the safety of their classrooms and homes.”

The purpose of the “Story Store” is to take the creative ideas of 3-6 students from around the neighboring areas and bring these ideas to life on stage. A writing prompt is sent to the Northeast and North Central Arkansas Gifted and Talented teachers, and students are encouraged to write a fairytale with their own unique twist. 

The stories are then sent to the WBU theatre program, and 26 are chosen to be staged. What makes the “Story Store” unique is the way the stories are presented. Some stories that are related to each other are incorporated together, some are acted out, and others are simply told. All of the stories are incorporated into one cohesive storyline. 

One story a student sent in that Williams has always loved involves Cinderella and her glass slipper. What if several people could fit into Cinderella’s glass slipper instead of just her? What would happen then? Williams said one would be surprised at how creative kids can get while coming up with their stories. 

This year, Williams is working with an all-new cast in the program, with most of the members being freshmen. It is her first time working with a completely new cast.

“It has been a learning experience for me and the cast members,” Williams said. “With restrictions from the pandemic and having to get a new cast in place we have faced a number of interesting tasks, but we have met them all and I believe that this production is going to be enjoyed by all.”

Performances of the “Story Store” will take place in the Startup Chapel on Feb. 23 and 25, but due to Covid-19 restrictions, audience members will not be allowed to attend. Cast members will sign scripts and those will be sent out to the schools that will be watching the performances through virtual means to allow students to follow along as they watch. 

“Story Store” is a joint effort between WBU and the Northeast Arkansas Educational Cooperative, with 13 schools and 26 stories represented in this year’s production.

WBU is a private, Christian university in Walnut Ridge, Ark.