Stage actors thrive off of the applause and the thrill of performing for a packed theatre. There is a certain energy that is cultivated between fellow actors and the audience that can’t be recreated in an online format, but UCI drama students are taking on the challenge of creating live theatre in a virtual world.
Alexis Brown is a first-year drama student in the Claire Trevor School of the Arts. Coming from the end of remote high school into her first year of remote college has felt like a lack of a milestone with minimal changes.
“It’s weird … it’s both a really big adjustment but also not an adjustment at all. For such a big milestone in my life, it feels like no milestone at all,” Brown said.
Growing up, Brown dreamed of studying drama as well as performing, surrounding herself with creative individuals and experiencing life on campus. However, with everyday life becoming primarily remote, these expectations have been replaced with a series of assignments and a lack of human connection.
“We’re all just finishing assignments, it’s not the most creative process. It’s not the most human connected process, which is what this work is all about, the human expression and the human connection and we limit it to a screen,” Brown said.
Creative studies such as acting, singing and dancing have been challenging to do at home for Brown along with many other art students. Many students like Jewell are sharing a living space with either family, friends or roommates. This setup can be difficult when you are in a vocal lesson while your siblings and parents have school and work a few rooms apart.
“I can’t dance in my room, after a while singing in my room annoys my family, you are very limited, especially in drama when play off of the human connection and not only your fellow actors that you are in the room with, but it will never be the same experience as being in front of an audience,” Jewell said.
There is an energy created on stage that can’t be emulated through an online platform. The shared connection between actors and the audience who is consumed in the performance is special. The sighs, laughs and cries that a live audience provides create empathetic connections. But now, that emotional exchange is blocked by the screen in this current reality.
“Without an audience there is always something missing, we can feel each other, the emotions and feelings of others, we connect to it,” Brown said.
Acting for a camera versus for a live audience in a theatre requires different skill sets. The juxtaposition of studying and performing the art of stage acting for a camera in online classes presents a challenging reality in presenting creative work.
Hannah Salas is a second-year drama major at CTSA who is interested in pursuing musical theatre. She is currently working on a virtual production of “The Sound of Music” with a community theatre group in Davis called Davis Musical Theatre Company.
Some of the most difficult parts of converting a show meant for a theatre to a Zoom call include making human connections and navigating vocals.
“The hardest thing is trying to perform with a group of people you’ve never gotten to meet and never had the chance to work with,” Salas said.
In the technical aspect, a musical via an online platform like Zoom is challenging because of the vocals. Technology has its limits and can only pick up one voice at a time. In a musical when there are many voices singing at once, not all of the sounds are properly heard. An alternative solution has been having actors record their parts of the songs individually, which are layered and edited in post-production.
“I’ve had to adapt and be more comfortable performing in my home because I don’t like to perform in front of just my family, I’d rather perform in front of strangers than people that I know,” Salas said.
In addition to having to record their vocals, the actors in the virtual production have green screens so they can edit on appropriate backgrounds to reflect the scenes in a play.
“Right now I have a green screen set up in my living room because we can’t have sets and we are performing from our home. It’s weird — I have never done anything like this before,” Salas said.
Salas has really missed the feeling of performing on-stage as she hasn’t performed in a couple of years. She’s been continuing to search for creative opportunities and performances to keep her spirits up during this time.
Sydney Caulder, second-year drama major with a film minor, is actively involved with the Film Arts Drama Alliance (FADA) at UCI. She was planning for a FADA project in the spring of 2020 when the pandemic hit, which inevitably canceled her plans. Now back for the fall quarter, Caulder is back working with her group and actively working on a new film project.
“For the fall I have a group that we are working on a film for, but I think it’s all going to be virtual, like filming ourselves and such, so it should be very interesting,” Caulder said.
Caulder says they are still in the beginning stages of planning and writing. Her team is working, diligently brainstorming ideas on how to effectively film their project and whether or not they will use cameras or iPhones for possibly more of a day-in-the-life-in-quarantine-styled film.
In the planning process, Caulder notes that it can be difficult to meet via Zoom with everyone’s schedules. The team conducts much of the creative brainstorming individually and comes together to share rather than a more collaborative process together.
“Normally in-person it’s more of a collaborative setting … but it’s been really hard to meet up and talk to the group,” Caulder said.
Pre-pandemic, FADA would host in-person auditions and send emails for results. The filming process was about a 3-4 day shoot and had a very professional environment. The groups involved in filming would typically have knowledge of each other’s projects and would even get to see sneak peeks of the works. This year the process is more relaxed and none of the groups really have knowledge of anyone else’s work.
“It seems a little bit less extravagant and out there than last year, but I think people are still creating and making some cool projects,” Caulder said.
In addition to FADA, Caulder is involved in Anteater TV as a news reporter and news anchor where she hosts game shows including “Shoot Your Zot,” which is a Zoom dating show and “Hot Spot,” a show that reviews and interviews local food and drink spots such as Cha for Tea.
“It was really hard because we had to screen record and we were worried about people’s screens getting cut off, like audio, so it was a weird process, but we’re in the editing stages of it right now and I’m excited for when we get to show it,” Caulder said.
Many actors right now are continuing to find and create new projects to fill their creative outlet. Time in quarantine is an opportunity to explore new ways of creating that you may not have thought of before, as well as reevaluating and rediscovering your artistry.
Claire Desenberg is an Entertainment Intern for the fall 2020 quarter. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org