Theater students showcased their live performance via Zoom for the Object Theatre summer workshop. (Courtesy of the Department of Theatre and New Dance)

COVID-19 disrupts productions, but theater department says the show must go on

Since California’s mandatory stay-at-home order was issued in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Cal Poly Pomona’s Theatre and New Dance Department is going to great lengths to find new and improved ways to integrate normality during the unexpected global health crisis for both students and faculty.

This temporary pause in in-person classes has not been considered a shut-down for the department but rather a time to re-evaluate and move forward full force. “Our industry as whole can be seen as being at a stand-still—with Broadway theaters closed, almost no in-person productions in process around the country and even associated industries like film in an almost dormant state,” said Sarah Krainin, an assistant professor in the Theatre and New Dance Department. “But as educators, our primary goal is to teach students how to deal with circumstances as they come.”

Theater students performed live at the Object Theatre summer workshop via Zoom. (Courtesy of the Department of Theatre and New Dance)

There are no plans within the department to cancel any productions but instead to hold them online—along with auditions, callbacks, rehearsals, classes and personal projects. “Our intention is to keep the integrity of the program intact, as well as the artistic opportunity for students,” said Linda Bisesti, a professor in the department.

Bisesti, who is also the artistic director of the Southern California Shakespeare Festival (SCSF), said that the department was able to put on an entire production of “Henry V” as planned. The SCSF also invited student actors from Boston, Northern California and New York to participate in the play. The production, on its sixteenth season, debuted on Aug. 15 via YouTube.

Along with the showcase of “Henry V,” there are two other major productions that will be hosted online for remote audiences. The first upcoming virtual production is “Men on Boats,” written by Jaclyn Backhaus and directed by Guest Director Nancy Keystone. The department will also return with Zorrox2, written by Department Chair Bernardo Solano and directed by Bisesti, on November.

All online productions will be free and available via YouTube. The department also plans on practicing live performances through Zoom.

“The students and faculty have worked tirelessly to make this work. We have very collaborative departments and we are all committed to teaching our students during this time. We are all committed to making the best of the virtual experience,” Bisesti said.

Students will be in close communication with set designers, costume designers and sound technicians to produce a high-quality production at home. The films that are shot by the students will be edited together carefully to create a functional performance.

For future productions, students will be using their own clothes to create costumes while lights, cameras and props will be supplied by the department. Department faculty members will be responsible for getting these items to students safely, according to Bisesti.

Nonetheless, due to the unusual nature of virtual instruction, Solano understands that students may face numerous challenges — such as difficulties learning and working with new equipment. “Each instructor will need to find a balance that suits both their teaching styles and the very real and practical challenges that our students face in this virtual environment,” Solano said. “I’m cautiously optimistic in some regards and actually very hopeful in others.”

More information on upcoming events will be updated through the department’s website and Facebook page.

“I look forward to this opportunity to experiment with live theatre and the mediums of film and TV because I think the work that’s being created around the country and the world will only make our art forms stronger, and our roles as artists in society more clearly an essential part of our lives,” Solano said.


Corrections were made to this story at 9:05 p.m. on August 30.

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