Theater Arts Club resumes in-person performances for fall 2021

Jaelyn Decena, Arts & Entertainment Editor

Since the reopening of CSUSM, students and faculty have had to find ways to adapt to school while trying to resume normal life. However, the pandemic has affected all students and introduced new challenges to keep students and staff safe and healthy, while giving students an opportunity to learn in a traditional in-person environment. On Sept. 30, we had the opportunity to interview Theater Club President, Edrick Agustin, to see how COVID-19 effects performing in-person performances for Theatre Arts majors.

I wanted to start by having you introduce yourself a bit. What’s your year and major?

I’m a fifth year, and I’m a communication major with minors in both theater and visual performing arts. With communication, it mainly focuses in media studies [and] how media affects people. And with theatre and performing Arts, it’s more about asking ‘how does art basically affect people emotionally, spiritually, or in any sort of way.’

Have you performed during the fully online COVID era? If so, what was it like?

We did do productions with actors over Zoom so we weren’t completely out of the job. We used Zoom as a way to perform still without being in close physical contact to be safe.”

It definitely felt more casual. Like, it didn’t feel as high stakes for me personally, though, every performer is different, so I can only speak for myself. But, I can definitely say that it felt more like a casual phone call, basically a scripted FaceTime call. It was different, and, in my opinion, it wasn’t as enjoyable.

But, there are still certain creative things that you can do through Zoom. For example, we used different filters and backgrounds for different characters, working with what we had.

Was it ever difficult to gauge the audience through Zoom?

Definitely. We could have had the audience’s cameras on, but we just trusted that we were doing a good job. Because what happens is oftentimes in a Zoom call, a person would accidentally cough and then their screen comes to the front as the speaker. And it’s not that they mean to heckle, it’s just that when you have a bigger microphone any little thing is amplified.

It’s not anyone’s fault, no one means to be mean, but sometimes someone would cough and then a random man’s screen would pop up for a second, and then the audience wouldn’t know if he’s part of the play. But no, he isn’t a part of it, he’s just someone that had a tickle in his throat.

What’s it like being able to perform in front of people now?

It’s weird. Because after a year and a half I feel like I’ve lost sense of all social skills. There was a point where when I went back on campus, I realized ‘wow, people are 3D! There are actual human beings that’re not on a screen!’

To transfer from being in a pandemic after a year and a half to actually looking at people with depth perception was a weird thing.

And also, with performing, I think many people aren’t used to it. So with the Theater Club, we meet every Friday in Arts 111 to have open mics. I think that doing this helps Theater students get acclimated to performing in front of a live audience again, especially because it’s in a smaller face-to-face sort of setting.

While it’s awesome that we’re back to performing again in front of people, it’s like working out a muscle that you haven’t worked out. It’s good, but it’s just taking some time.

How do the safety precautions affect performing in front of people?

Well to start, we can’t do kissing scenes as much; we’re not too comfortable with that. It is scary when there are more intimate scenes having to be really close to someone. We do have this thing in Theatre like with the Hatmaker’s Wife where some performers are allowed to not wear masks with the consent of the school and the Theater Department only with the understanding that everyone in the cast had been vaccinated.

“How is performing in front of people now compare to before the COVID-19 pandemic?” 

I think with performing in front of people now in context of the pandemic, even though there is a vaccine out, there’s still gonna be a level of fear about COVID-19. It is also different in the sense that all performances indoors, we have to wear a mask for the safety of ourselves and everybody else. It is weird when you’re performing and you’re wearing a mask, and then you look out and see a sea of faces also with masks on.

And a big thing with live performance, at least for me, is the reaction of everyone else. Whether that be audible, or physical. It’s definitely the fear over medical safety that keeps us from living in the moment, but we are getting better about feeling safe in spaces again even when there’s a lot of people.

With The Hatmaker’s Wife there were a couple of scenes when the characters were kissing, and even though I wasn’t a part of that show, when I was watching it as an audience member I had a mini heart-attack thinking ‘infection, imminent.’ But after knowing everyone was vaccinated I felt better, but I think in context of the state of the world there will be a certain level of anxiety.

But with the Theater Club, we’re trying our best to work with what we have. We’re trying to find students that love the medium, including people who aren’t even theater majors. And no one has to have talent, only creativity. There’s no shortage of that, I think everyone has a voice.

The COVID-19 pandemic inevitably reshaped the idea of normalcy. For Theater Arts students such as Agustin and the Theater Club, students are trying their best to adapt and form a new concept of normal to fully enjoy performing again.

The Cougar Chronicle: The independent student news site of California State University, San Marcos