Performing Panthers Leap From Stage to Screen

(Pictured Above: Top row left to right; Phillip Church, Alex Camacho, Luis Avila, Middle row left to right; Maleeha Naseer, Daniella Valdivieso, Luigi Perez, Bottom row; Camilla Klas)

Taylor Gutierrez / Contributing Writer

The coronavirus pandemic left thousands of performers around the world unemployed in the last year. However, FIU performing arts faculty and students approached this challenging situation with creativity and innovation. 

Since the university went fully remote in March of last year, most classes in the FIU School of Theatre and School of Music have been taught through Zoom. COVID-19 safety guidelines quickly forced the theatre program to adopt new teaching methods.

“Theatre is the one program or career path that is probably the most prepared for something like this to happen. In theatre, we don’t have time to question what happens, especially on stage,” said acting major and senior in the School of Theatre, Shadya Muvdi. “If a prop breaks, we have to figure something out. If a costume rips, we have to figure something out.”

Shadya Muvdi performed in FIU School of Theatre’s virtual show LYSISTRATA, a Greek comedy performance.

Muvdi described how theatre students have to keep up with the unexpected on stage and with the pandemic as well. 

“When we transitioned into this, it was like, ‘We don’t have time to waste. We have to keep learning,’ she said.

Anthony Galaska, an FIU associate professor and head of design and production at the School of Theatre said the pandemic drastically changed the performing arts community.

“Theatre is such a hands-on experience and workplace. As a lighting designer, how do you learn without turning the lights on? For stage combat, how do you practice without being in the same room as someone?” asked Galaska.

“We’ve learned that there are still really interesting ways you can create theatre and art by following the guidelines,” he said.

Part of FIU’s repopulation plan for students, faculty and staff is the use of Panthers Protecting Panthers (P3), a survey used to determine if an individual might have COVID-19.

Theatre students rehearsing for their performance, LYSISTRATA. Actors perform individually through Zoom meetings and scenes are edited together for the show. (Pictured Above: left to right Gigi Umana, Katherina Galvez, Shadya Muvdi, Emily Taylor-Madrid)

FIU also offers some face-to-face courses with physical distancing and mask-wearing. All physical or hybrid classes in the theatre program have reconfigured workspaces to follow CDC guidelines, according to Galaska.

“For our show, LYSISTRATA, we’re using green screens. The performers are not acting to the camera on Zoom, but they act to the side. The director has blocked it so that when it’s edited together it looks like the actors are talking to each other,” he said. “Even though they are in different rooms and in front of green screens, you can still get that feeling of live theatre.” 

Theatre and design students are also experimenting with techniques outside of their major such as filmmaking and editing.

Anthony Galaska has worked as an associate professor and head of design and production for 13 years at FIU.

“They’re trying to find the right shot for the camera on Zoom, so it involves film too, we have some added features now,” Galaska said.

Currently, the School of Music teaches classes in a variety of ways to accommodate students and faculty. The jazz performance program holds rehearsals in person once a week. 

“We meet outdoors in the School of Music’s rotunda, where we can spread out and mask up. We’re lucky to have rehearsal spaces and outdoor options to conduct our rehearsals safely,” said Jamie Ousley, the university’s coordinator of jazz performance.

Associate professor Jamie Ousley teaches classes like jazz history and jazz ear training in the School of Music.

Not only are class operations less traditional, but the students are also finding creative ways to make music outside of the classroom. 

“The virtual experience has been a great push to introduce students to producing and self-recording projects, which is how much of the world works in commercial settings,” said Ousley. “Many of our student ensembles are assembling and mixing recordings together into a multi-panel video or audio recording.”

He also praised his students, and university faculty and administration for being open-minded during challenging circumstances. Ousley explained the music business is constantly evolving and students are more adaptable now because of the pandemic.

“It’s really wonderful training to equip our students as they become professional music entrepreneurs,” he said.

The transition to return to campus is starting gradually, but it will take a while for performances to go back to normal, according to Ousley. One of his students, Juan Moreno, a music education major, highlighted the same idea.

Juan Moreno plays the jazz bass in the School of Music and will be graduating in the fall of 2021.

“Obviously, I would like for everything to go back to normal. Especially with music, it’s so crucial to have a personal and physical interaction because that’s how you create music and perform at the ultimate level,” said Moreno. “But, I’m sure that by next semester, things will be a bit smoother when it comes to Zoom meetings and people will show up to performances.”

The faculty of both music and theatre programs are looking forward to one of the most essential aspects of the performing arts: the audience. 

“I’m excited to say though now, with current CDC guidelines, we are able to present live performances in our largest halls with a limited live audience of 20 people,” said Ousley. “Most of the students are jumping at the chance to perform live in front of an audience.”

FIU successfully adapted to performing arts in the digital space, according to the university’s music and theatre faculty. However, both faculty and students are excited to perform for an audience again.

“It’s such a big part of all of these things: going to see a jazz band, or a symphony, or dancers on stage. It’s that moment in time that you share together,” said Galaska. “Capturing this moment is hard right now. But FIU faculty and students have done a great job looking for that connection.”

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