This blog post was written by Isabella Gonzalez.
Within the Fordham Theatre community, there’s this idea that no two Mainstage productions are the same, in conception and experience, and that was before the world entered a global pandemic that transforms each day. Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya proved to be no contradiction. For first-year theatre majors with concentrations in performance, they’re not only finding their footing in the program and the Mainstage environment but trying to find their place in an industry budding with more questions than answers lately. I sat down with Matthew Green and Jade Huber, two first-year performers, to hear about their experiences of crafting a Mainstage production in their first semester of college and in the midst of a pandemic.
If Green and Huber initially thought the pandemic would make for a relaxed schedule, they were mistaken. Auditions were held the first week of classes, just after move-in, and utilized pre-recorded videos. If an actor received a callback interview, the meeting would be held only a few days later. Green mentioned the process was “nerve-wracking” at first, but the students more than made up for the anxiety. “The people are just, so nice,” Green remarked with a smile. “The upperclassmen reached out right away on Instagram, sending congratulations, stopping to talk, offering to get lunch, etc.”
Huber walked through the rehearsal process, citing it as notably different from her previous experiences. While actors socially distanced as they hung out together during breaks, warm-ups were a solo effort, leading to the development of different interactions with the material for each performer. For Huber, she favored doing research on her character. “I like to choose a song for each character and each scene my character is in to embody the specific way my character is reacting to the world around her.” The app Discord was used for check-ins with crew members to check tech setups like greenscreen, microphones, and lights. Virtual wardrobe dressing rooms alongside a costume plot existed to make sure costumes looked picture perfect. “Everything is sort of the same but just in a different medium, y’know?”
Green added that he felt there was a stronger emphasis on the words of the piece. Each word was taken to another level through a shared collaborative effort on deciding the final script. “Each. Word. Meant. Something. The words became a part of our group. We took ownership of them.” He also shared that walking a scene came later in the rehearsal process since there was never a moment of freezing as new decisions were constantly being made, up to two days before opening night, due to the nature of creating a fresh update on the source material.
New technologies were also adapted to construct unique virtual experiences that could be considered historical relics when people are looking back in time at these COVID times. OBS backgrounds were played live and featured numerous images, such as peacocks, fingers touching, and a kiss sculpture, to name a few. “I think of it as those hidden Disney eggs… it all means something. We as actors have had to instill that meaning in the work that we do. Even if the audience doesn’t know, we know, which in my opinion boosts the performance and the play itself by, like, a thousand percent.”
During the announcement of the Fordham Theatre Mainstage Season, the program adopted a new mantra for this season: “Facing the Unknown.” Despite the unsettling confusion and uncertainty wreaking havoc on the future of Broadway, Fordham wanted their approach to be that their thespians are still hard at work and are ready for anything. Green applauded the attitude and commented on the excitement Fordham incited in him. “My mind is blown by the magic we’ve created, the way we’ve managed to break out of those [zoom] boxes. There’s no other way to put it other than we’ve created a spectacular virtual theatre experience.”
On whether these virtual methods should be continued to be implemented post-COVID, the two first-years opinions’ differed. Green appreciated the accessibility that virtual theatre has and that many family members, including his grandfather’s cousin, were able to be in attendance from the comforts of their home rather than struggling to make the trip to New York City. He also welcomed the new challenges acting for zoom brings, like focusing on facial expressions more than the whole body. Huber was blunter with her response, “I definitely don’t think it’s something that should stay just for the sake of being an actor. I guess it’s selfish to say that, but I just want to feel real human connection again.”