The show must go on

The COVID-19 outbreak on campus did not bring down the curtain

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Dancers during a rehearsal // Photo courtesy of Shira Holtz '24

The performance opportunities on campus are dependent on the ability to have artists and creatives present to rehearse and communicate. This has not been the case, however, for numerous shows and opportunities on campus due to a spread of COVID cases and other health-related issues. The disease impacted numerous artistic teams and creatives on the theatre and dance department’s production of “The Threepenny Opera,” “We Are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia Formerly Known as Southwest Africa, From the German Südwestafrika, Between the Years 1884–1915,” the Muhlenberg Theatre Association’s (MTA) Studios productions and more performances.

“We have had some folks who needed to miss rehearsal for health reasons, and of course that presents challenges. We’re still moving forward at a good pace, and rehearsals are going very well, so I’m not worried, but it is adding an additional layer of complexity,” stated James (Jim) Peck, Ph.D., the director of “The Threepenny Opera.”

“This season, though, despite all of my efforts, I wasn’t in control.”

– Allison Mintz ‘23

The show does not open until the end of October so the production team has been able to accommodate missing members of the cast and crew.

Lauren Koranda ‘23, the associate director for “The Threepenny Opera,” stated, “I tested positive after the wave of cases on campus hit our company. Luckily, we had the support of our amazing understudies to carry us through the week of COVID-related absences. Our director and stage management really did work to put safety first and even facilitated the ability for me to be a part of every rehearsal on Zoom from my bed 100 miles away.”

Zoom was also used for members of the cast who tested positive for COVID.

“It hasn’t really impacted the overall creative experience because I didn’t miss much and they were very good about getting me caught up. I am really excited for this show. Everyone is so talented and I am really excited to perform with them,” stated Kailani Reis ‘24. Reis utilized the recordings of choreographed numbers to help with not being present.

For another actor, Allison Mintz ‘23, testing positive took an emotional toll related to her result’s potential impact on her peers. Mintz said, “My friends know that I never cry, but when I tested positive despite masking everywhere I went, I was really crying to the poor woman at the health center over the phone. My being upset had literally nothing to do with the illness that had taken over my body and everything to do with the inconvenience it would cause my cast and classmates.”

Mintz highlighted, “I was so apologetic to everyone when I communicated that I had COVID, and Jim Peck really put it best when he responded to my email saying, ‘this is a disease, not a moral failing.’ There was nothing I could do.”

The juxtaposition of the rehearsal experience at Muhlenberg. // Photo courtesy of Lauren Koranda ’23

The understudies for the piece have also been essential to the process and making sure the show can go on.

“We cast understudies for all of the principal roles and then swings for the understudies. That doesn’t usually happen at Muhlenberg, but in light of the fact that COVID isn’t over, we thought it would be smart to anticipate this might occur. It has, indeed, been essential. When an actor needs to miss rehearsal due to their health, they can Zoom in if they feel well enough, and hear the discussion and watch their understudy move through the role to assimilate blocking or other changes. The understudies are working hard and approaching the task with a great generosity of spirit, so they have been a real boon to the production. I’m so grateful to them,” stated Peck.

Mintz continued, “I am so lucky to have an incredible understudy, Valentina [Nazzaro ‘23], who stood in for me and took notes in my absence. I hope the department continues to use understudies in a post-pandemic world, learning to be a good swing/understudy is so valuable and clearly useful in today’s theatre world.”

“We Are Proud to Present…” opens this weekend, and has faced a couple of health-related issues. Caro Sutton-Schott ‘24, the production stage manager, had to miss numerous rehearsals. “I think the most difficult part of getting COVID during the process was having to rely on other people to do my job. As a stage manager, I count on being a part of every moment of the process. The ‘We Are Proud to Present’ rehearsal process was not the type of show where I could Zoom in and completely and fully understand what was happening. Thankfully, I had an amazing [stage management] and directorial team to fill me in on as much information as possible, however even with that, I still struggled a bit when I came back. It was really hard to step away knowing that I was missing vital information in rehearsals.”

The dance productions on campus were also affected by the COVID outbreak, particularly with auditions for the department’s production of “In Motion” for the spring. Production Stage Manager Carlie Nieman ‘23 said, “The unpredictability of COVID on campus definitely had an impact on ‘In Motion’ auditions whether that was dancers being unable to physically attend auditions or masks being required by choreographers in the audition room. Thankfully, we were able to adapt and give opportunities for all dancers to audition by having a virtual video submission option for those who were in isolation.”

“This is the largest company and longest run of a show Muhlenberg has had since before the pandemic, so anything we can do to keep each other safe and supported through this process is worth doing.”

– Lauren Koranda ‘23

The student-run productions of the MTA also started off with a rough start due to the Studios coordinator, Kyle Barkis ‘25, having the virus, and one of the directors of the three productions having COVID as well. Joey Marcacci ‘23, the director of “God of Carnage,” one of the three Studios shows, had to begin the process in isolation. “I’m directing a Studio production this semester, and I was also lucky that my five day quarantine did not derail much of the schedule. We are now moving along just fine in the process!”

Actors and artists will also have to be kind and understanding of themselves, especially when it comes to an illness that is not within their control. 

Mintz declared, “Being cast in a departmental production is an incredible honor, and it immediately becomes a priority of mine to keep my body healthy for the show. This season though, despite all of my efforts, I wasn’t in control.”

The production process will continue to move forward despite the lingering pandemic, but the artistic and production teams of these shows have to be cautious and understanding.  

Koranda finalized, “No one enjoys wearing a mask in rehearsal, but I think we all understand the importance of preventing any further illness and absences as best we can. This is the largest company and longest run of a show Muhlenberg has had since before the pandemic, so anything we can do to keep each other safe and supported through this process is worth doing.”

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