Saturday, May 8, 2021
HomeOpinionPresenting: Studying Drama in the Pandemic

Presenting: Studying Drama in the Pandemic

- advertisement -

ACT 1 SCENE 1. 

The pandemic is a blow to the college experience. 

That worn-out thought has been integrated somewhere in nearly every conversation involving a college student. As a first-year drama major at UCI, I can attest that this is not how I envisioned my freshman year to go, but that’s the case for myself and many others. Online learning isn’t for everyone, and it is definitely a different experience compared to in-person, on-campus life. For my major, which generally requires more face-to-face contact, it was a time where everyone had to learn how to adapt and stay motivated — to varying degrees of success. 

ACT 1 SCENE 2. 

Drama is built around interactions, communication and story-telling. It’s an art form that allows the actors and the audience to step into a different reality. In order to accomplish this, drama requires rehearsing, vulnerability and focus from its participants. A part of it is feeding off the energies of other actors, and learning how to let go of excess thoughts to act in the moment. It is not just the script that forms a scene, but the contact, physicality and environment —  all aspects that were stripped away when we were suddenly placed in front of a screen. Suddenly having restrictions to express definitely affected my passion. Nevertheless, this is a part of what drama students have chosen to dedicate their education and time towards. 

From the get-go, colleges have already put in efforts to make this experience less challenging for students. Carnegie-Mellon University took on a hybrid of online and in-person, DePaul University went completely virtual but allow students to make appointments to use campus space. In our case, UCI has completely adopted online learning. 

Acting through Zoom has its difficulties. There’s random lagging that affects reaction time to lines. There’s an uncertainty of where to look for eye contact and how to set up your screen to fit the scenario. 

“It’s definitely weird [because] usually when you perform … you can’t see yourself, so there’s no pressure to look or behave a certain way,” first-year drama major Zoe Lam said. “You just do what comes naturally, but now that you’re on Zoom, your face is blown up and you get a lot more self-conscious.” 

Performing scenes that aren’t meant to be done virtually adds a level of disconnect that results in actors not getting the same genuine responses they can expect from being in-person. It is no surprise that this isn’t the preferable way of learning. From not being trusted with campus spaces by faculty to getting neighbor complaints for vocal classes, it’s been damaging for the creative process. 

For second-year graduate actor Evan Lugo, who is also teaching one of UCI’s studio acting classes, online acting hasn’t been what he envisioned. To him, it doesn’t feel like, “real, authentic acting” because the artis “all about being present with your partner, your surroundings and responding to them …  [there are] fundamentals aspects, like looking your scene partner in the eye, that are lost in online acting.”

From seeing last year’s graduates have so much room to explore themselves as actors, his current situation feels like “a very watered-down version of what this program is supposed to be.” We’re lucky that in these unfortunate times, we have the choice of education, however, it’s still disheartening that an art form that, as Lugo put it, used “to feel like a privilege, now feels like a requirement.” 

Although, it isn’t all negative. Acting, learning and having Zoom productions online are all in some way shaping or preparing us for the future. 

“It’s good practice since future casting might include more online auditions for efficiency,” Lam said. “It can’t replace live theatre but it is opening a new medium to the craft.” 

Yet for Lugo, who in the span of these past seven months has dropped out of a production of “Human Error,” was in a canceled production of “12th Night” and was casted in “El Henry” that became a workshop instead of a mainstage show, Zoom productions personally haven’t been “inclusive enough of students’ voices” and were quite “unorganized.”In the actor, drama is special in giving an“adrenaline rush” from the satisfaction in knowing that “every part and fiber of [his] being was left out on stage.” There’s a certain type of energy created between live performers and an audience that can’t be replaced.  

We could all agree that acting through a camera cannot compare to the feeling of acting in-person. As Lam puts it, there’s “a sense of satisfaction when you’re standing on a stage and you look out after all this work and time you’ve put into this project and now you’re sharing it and people are enjoying it, reacting to it and witnessing everything you’ve been practicing.” 

Now, those energies that fuel our passion for acting are suddenly not so achievable in online acting. 

ACT 1 SCENE 3. 

Choosing to major in drama is already sort of a taboo topic because of how unstable the dream to become an actor is. People are dedicating their education and future training to be a part of an industry that is based on luck and perseverance. It is an unguaranteed career choice that doesn’t promise success to many people. Therefore to choose this major, one has to really love it and trust in themselves that this is what they want to do. Every aspiring actor already knows that there are more rejections than acceptances, but it’s that passion that keeps us running. Yet, there are still people that will say: “that’s risky… are you sure … you don’t have to major in drama to act.” Those are familiar phrases that usually don’t phase me, but I’d be lying if I said that this quarantined learning hasn’t brought out those insecurities again. 

I was lucky enough that my family and peers were supportive of my decision. However, that wasn’t the case for Lugo. He danced and acted throughout high school and knew that a part of him wanted to take this seriously, but there were always people telling him that “[he] couldn’t do acting realistically and [he] wasn’t good enough.” It wasn’t until he auditioned and got several callbacks for the International Thespian Festival that he realized, “I’m doing this, I’m going to school for acting.” 

Acting is so addictive because you get to put a pause on the chaos in your own life and learn to experience and handle life as another person. 

“It’s therapeutic,” Lam says. “A lot of people think acting is just putting on another person’s shoes, but it’s more like you’re emptying yourself and transforming into someone else.” 

We suddenly get this whole new life because we have new perspectives, new relationships and are in situations that we as ourselves might never get to experience. To Lam, “drama is rooted in reality, it’s a part of the human experience because it’s applicable anywhere … and people forget that acting is something that’s enabling us to be connected to the world.” 

For Lugo, the most fulfilling parts of getting to “tell the characters’ stories” are “the listening aspect, partner engagement and the whole process of getting into a role.” 

When so many collaborative, liberating aspects of acting are taken away, motivation is key. For many drama students, it means watching a really good movie, looking back at past performances or even listening to interviews. 

For Lugo,  when one’s ambition is low, sometimes motivation means “acknowledging that you’re not always going to be motivated … and it’s okay.”  

Although we’re receiving more academic than creative parts of theatre right now, Lam thinks that this situation is “good in the sense that it reminds us of why we’re doing what we’re doing.” It is really easy to give up during a time like this, but it is important to remember what and why we dedicated our time and education to this.

ACT 1 SCENE 4.

A part of college life has always been about adjusting and exposing yourself to new experiences. As a student studying drama, there have been many moments of questioning and rethinking. However, it has ultimately helped reinforce my dream and passion for acting. It’s unfortunate that education is one of the larger things influenced by COVID-19 restrictions, but it’s been an opportunity for people to focus, reflect and improve. 

Fiona Liu is an Opinion Intern for the winter 2021 quarter. She can be reached at fional5@uci.edu