Lights, camera, Zoom: CPP theater department showcases virtual show

By Lauren Muttram, March 16, 2021

The Cal Poly Pomona Department of Theatre and New Dance pushed the boundaries of storytelling with its virtual, student-written production, “2020…,” released on March 12.

The production — written by 27 students — is a collage of short plays, clips and monologues focusing on four significant and interrelated themes present throughout the year 2020: systemic racism, the pandemic, the economy and climate change.

“As we started the fall semester, it seemed like a good idea to do a pivot and create something that spoke to the moment,” said director Bernardo Solano, the department chair. “That is where the idea initiated, as a result of asking, ‘How can we help our students? What can we do to address what everybody’s collectively going through?’”

The production is presented through ShowTix4U, a live streaming and video-on-demand website giving arts organizations a platform to present their theatrical shows safely amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Each piece included in the production was chosen from students in the fall TH 4010 class, Play Writing and Dramatic Structure. Through these pieces, theater students were given the opportunity to share their experiences and present viewers with a window into what 2020 was like for them.

“The designers were students, the production team were students, the actors were students, everything was student-based and I think it’s very relatable,” said Adrian Gibson, the production’s stage manager and third-year technical theater student.

One of the plays included in the production was written by third-year theater student Andrew Nguyen, titled “My Roommate is a Demon.”

Much like the apocalyptic feeling accompanying the global coronavirus lockdown, the play presents viewers with an imaginative story of an individual’s experience dealing with an unwanted demon roommate during an apocalypse.

“With these multi-piece productions and each piece different than the next, it’s a really good idea to have a concise theme going across all of them,” Nguyen said.

With CPP requiring online instruction, the cast and crew were challenged with creating and producing the entire production virtually. The directors, set designers, costume designers and stage managers worked collaboratively with actors to support the utilization of home environments to generate a unique viewer experience.

“We are not trying to hide the fact that it was shot in somebody’s bedroom,” Solano said. “We are using the environment of each students’ particular circumstances and incorporating them into the play and into the production.”

Due to the virtual environment of the production and the crew’s continuous dependence on technology, the student-written production faced unique challenges and complications.

Gibson recalled instances when she needed to utilize phone calls to connect with actors and other crew members because of unstable internet connections and other technological problems.

“I made sure the actors had my number to text, email and anything to see if they had issues because not everyone has quality internet,” Gibson said.

Despite the unique virtual environment and challenges accompanying the show, the cast and crew displayed their hard work in the premiere of the production on March 12.

“It’s really wonderful to see how theater is still being produced via Zoom,” said Susana Gandara, a fifth-year theater student and writer of two monologues in the production. “Even though we are apart, we can still be together and connected and still tell amazing, important stories.”

After the final showing of “2020…” on March 21, the Department of Theatre and New Dance is partnering with the Michi and Walter Weglyn Endowed Chair of Multicultural Studies in a virtual panel to discuss the issues tackled in the production. The panel will be free to the public.

To purchase tickets to “2020…,” visit https://www.showtix4u.com/event-details/48260.

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