University Theatre Needs a Housecsudhbulletin April 30, 2021 0 COMMENTS
In light of COVID-19 restrictions, the Theatre Department was able to put on some productions for the spring 2021 semester. Art by Andrea Espinoza
By Andrea Espinoza, Staff Reporter
The CSUDH University Theater has had a rough three years. In 2018, an inspection found safety issues that shut down the theater for what was supposed to be four months but wound up being more than a year.
But the university used this temporary closure to not only fix those safety issues but to brush up some aspects of the 45-year-old building, which re-opened in December 2019 with a dance concert titled “Renovation.”
With its first full schedule of performances in more than a year lined up for the spring
, 2020 semester, the primary tenant of the theater, the Department of Theatre and Dance, was expecting a full slate of performances. And then the pandemic hit in March, forcing yet another round of cancelations.
In November 2020, the department was given the OK to resume performances and productions. However, with the pandemic still a reality, that accessibility came with a great deal of rules and regulations that forced the department into making major adjustments.
One of the biggest was the issue of masks. Although not a big deal in dance productions, other than dancers perhaps feeling uncomfortable with something strapped across their mouths, however, in theater, performers must be heard. So adjustments had to be made, particularly for musical theater students since one of the requirements to utilize the theater is that masks must be worn at all times.
The solution was to pre-record the singing portions of the shows, edit them and then mix them into the performances that were streamed live.
Which brings up another adjustment that had to be made: the lack of audiences in the theater. The department adjusted by live-streaming performances which isn’t the same as the audience and cast being in the same space, but a better option than pre-recording the show.
Doris Ressl, the department chair as well as a professor of dance, said that while the pandemic has forced a lot of adjustments, some of which students may not like, such as not being able to perform live in front of an audience, there are still learning opportunities that can be gained from this experience.
One experience some students have gained is venturing into aspects of production that they may not have otherwise. As an example, she said the department was given two 4k cameras and that has allowed students to explore making cuts between scenes and using different angles.
The obstacle that the students faced were the rehearsals for these productions because in-person rehearsals were not allowed due to the COVID restrictions; rehearsals had to take place over Zoom. Despite being grateful that these productions were forging ahead, Zoom rehearsals were quite challenging.
Shaunte’ Caraballo, the director of the play “A Surge of Power,” in March, told the Bulletin that limited availability for rehearsal was an issue for her way, particularly relating to dialogue. The script included many instances of characters speaking at the same time or overlapping dialogue, things that were hard to duplicate over Zoom, due to the frequent delays on the platform because of unpredictable internet speeds.
“There were some things that we could not rehearse until we met in person,” Caraballo said. As a spoken word artist, Caraballo found it hard because of the lack of on-stage presence/ chemistry via zoom.
“I could have changed or edited the script. But I didn’t want it to be different,” Caraballo said. “It was also difficult that we only had a few weeks to have that kind of connection and time together.”
Another aspect that had to be reimagined were the costumes. All performers had to wear masks as the number of actors on stage was limited and social distancing had to be maintained at all times.
For “A Surge of Power,” Caraballo purposely cast only four people so they could share the stage at the same time, but at the same time be able to perform parts of the play without masks.”
The pandemic has been a challenge for the department and will remain one as long as uncertainty remains over how much of the theater’s 299-seat capacity can be utilized. While the department has a full schedule of shows planned for the 2021-21 academic year, it hopes that the one character that completes every play and the audience. Current guidelines, if approved, about 45 people could watch a performance.
“We are looking forward to being able to be together and having a live reaction to our shows. Actors and dancers feed off the energy in the audience,” Ressl said. “I think having that interaction with the audience is a big thing that we’re looking forward to and audience energy.”