Few college majors are as affected as University of Miami theater students by the COVID-19 pandemic. Navigating how to operate safely in the midst of a global health crisis poses a plethora of challenges.
Next spring, UM’s theater department plans to present three performances. The first is “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” based on the novel by Mark Haddon, adapted by Simon Stephens March 4-11. Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” will follow from March 31 to April 3. Finally, “Cabaret, made famous by the music of John Kander and the lyrics of Fred Ebb, will debut April 21-30..
Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) candidate, junior musical theater student from New Jersey, Scarlett Diaz is thrilled to be a part of “Cabaret” after five unusual semesters.
“I have to make sure I make up for lost time,” Diaz said. “I really have to make sure I look at this like it’s my semester and I’m going to school every day and doing what I love.”
“The Curious Incident of the Dog During the Night” and “Cabaret” are both set to perform inside the historic Jerry Herman Ring Theater. “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” takes place in the forest and is therefore scheduled to occur outdoors, which provides for additional health security measures.
Diaz says “Cabaret” will take place “in the round,” meaning the audience is seated on all four sides of the stage. The structure not only works for the musical, but also allows for greater social distancing. The Ring’s capacity is 306, but it won’t be full this spring.
Ring Theater box office manager Maria Usaga expressed the theater department’s compliance with the university’s event and activity guidelines.
“We are taking additional safety measures, reducing seating capacity by 50% (150 seats) and creating seat pods once we start selling tickets to allow for social distancing inside the theatre,” he said. said Usaga.
For upcoming productions, cast and crew students will take a mandatory PCR test two days before the first performance and a quick test each show day. This differs from last semester where actors only had to test twice the week before performances to perform without a mask.
Performers do not plan to be masked in upcoming productions if they receive negative test results. They will remain hidden for all rehearsals and backstage. Crew and members of the public will also be required to wear masks.
Shea Hittman, a lecturer and college scene management advisor, worked as part of a COVID-19 emergency operations team. She has found her extensive knowledge of the virus useful in the arts.
“Masking really is one of the best tools to beat the virus and keep it at bay,” Hittman said.
During last fall’s production season, each show was only allowed one weekend, as opposed to the standard two weekends. The plan for spring is to bring back two weekends of shows. This will give students, families and friends more opportunities to see their loved ones perform.
“It’s really cool to share this really crucial part of me with my friends outside of the theater,” Diaz said. “And I’m also so excited to see my friends on their respective shows this season.”
Per the health guidelines to which the theater department adheres, all members of the public attending performances must review and agree to comply with safety guidelines as part of the departure when purchasing tickets.
These guidelines include wearing face coverings, completing the symptom checker, and agreeing to participate in contract research in the event of a positive COVID test within 48 hours of the performance.
Hittman has expressed fear of working with students in a pandemic, and steps she takes to feel safe include testing when she can and consistently using a mask. Hittman applauded UM’s commitment to following all safety guidelines provided.
“I think in terms of adapting and running all the shows, this school year is something we can be proud of,” Hittman said. “That’s a feat in itself.”
Additionally, audience members will need to practice social distancing in the theater. If members of the public are traveling overseas a week before the event, they will be required to submit a negative COVID-19 test to attend.
“We’re doing our best to make sure our shows go as planned,” Usaga said. “Keeping everyone in the department and our community safe and healthy along the way.”
According to Usaga, as UM’s COVID protocols evolve, the department will make necessary changes to stay current with the safest health measures.