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From Zoom University to Zoom Productions: performing arts in a pandemic

<p>Be it through Zoom or socially-distant, performing arts orgs are looking to overcome yet another semester in the era of COVID.</p>

Be it through Zoom or socially-distant, performing arts orgs are looking to overcome yet another semester in the era of COVID.

If 2020 taught college students anything, it’s that, somehow, we can survive remotely. Classes, Greek life and even social gatherings can take place online. 

But how do you rehearse songs over Zoom? 

How do you practice improv comedy when you’re miles apart? 

How do you put together an entire musical production through a computer screen? 

Performing arts organizations have had to navigate this new virtual world due to COVID-19. Because many of the performances rely on audience participation, these orgs have changed the way they approach their art forms to engage with audiences and get the most out of their remote experiences. 

The Cheezies, Miami’s oldest a cappella group, has had some flexibility in its performances options. Because it is a singing-based organization, members have been able to perform outside; for example, the group performed at the Oxford Farmer’s Market last semester. 

Chris Ford, a senior public administration and music double major, said the biggest change has been planning and keeping track of everyone to comply with COVID-19 restrictions. 

“Everything had to be planned,” Ford said. “And there's so much, that's what people don't understand. There's so much planning [going] into a cappella groups right now: hours of work spent sanitizing, distancing, making seating charts. Everything, even as far as music … we don't want paper music because of germs.” 

Ford said the group hopes to have an outdoor concert and potentially some type of recording, such as an album or a livestream. 

Stage Left, a musical theater org on campus, has had to work around restrictions to make the show go on. When COVID-19 hit last March, the group had already blocked numbers, practiced songs and booked spaces for its spring show “Twisted.” Because everyone was sent home from campus so quickly, the show got pushed to the beginning of the fall semester. 

Despite the rocky start in adapting to COVID-19, the org has successfully put on “American Idiot” and is planning to do the song cycle “Edges” this spring. Rigby Gladieux, a sophomore marketing and arts management double major and big/little chair for the org, said they feel the club has done well given the circumstances. 

“It’s been a challenge, but I think we’ve been pretty successful in making people feel welcomed and a part of our organization,” Gladieux said. 

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Gladieux said this semester the org is trying to do more in-person rehearsals, with masks and social-distancing. They said they value the hybrid method of meeting, where members can do partner work in person and other activities via Zoom, such as character workshops and big/little events. 

“I think it’s important, especially as actors and for people working together to create a performance,” Gladieux said. “It’s better to have some of that in-person time, even if it is masked and distanced and even if it is just a few people at a time, because it’s important to have that chemistry.”

Last semester, the improv comedy group Sketched Out successfully ran small, socially-distanced auditions that saw no more than 10 people in the room at a time. This semester, the team has two new members. But Deirdre Sperry, a senior public health major and co-president of the group, said she isn’t too worried about the future of the org. 

“We’re still doing improv, but there definitely is a component of maintaining distance and not being able to fully interact with people,” Sperry said. “It’s not the same, but I hope we give [the new members] a good introduction so that hopefully next year when things are a little more normal they can start to get the full experience.” 

Last semester, the team had to hold its first live streamed performance. Sperry said the experience went better than expected, but the group had to work harder to create the energy among themselves as opposed to working off the audience’s energy. 

As a senior, Sperry reflected on her past experiences on the team. 

“I’m a little sad,” Sperry said. “Obviously I was hoping it could be what it has been for the last three years, but I really cherish those memories, and I really appreciate that the team has been so willing to adapt to the new situation … so even though it hasn’t been quite like the experience I was hoping for, it has still been a good experience, and I’ll carry this year with me.”