I was in a play during a pandemic
Last fall, while I was taking a theater course at UIC entitled “Acting for Non-Majors,” my professor told the class that she was directing Arthur Miller’s The Crucible for UIC come spring semester. My professor encouraged everyone to audition, at least just to give it a try. So I did, I’ve done some acting in the past, but nothing since high school. Still, I sent in a self tape, not really expecting anything to come of it, so when I got a callback, you can only imagine my surprise. Callbacks occurred over Zoom, I performed a monologue for the character I was called back for and I was sent on my merry way. In my head, I thought I’d done pretty well, but actors are usually their own worst critic, so again I expected nothing to come of it. I thought I’d chalk it all up to a nice, educating experience. Then, when I found out I’d gotten cast in the show, I was shocked, scared, but mostly excited.
What happened next is where the real story kicks off. The cast list went out in early December, and after came final exams and winter break, so we were in a bit of a waiting game until spring semester began. Our stage manager sent out emails every now and then to collect information on things like costumes, filming set up, and technology access, but little more occurred on the actors side. Rehearsals for the play began like any other, with a table read. The whole cast and creative team assembled together on Zoom and we read the play. While reading a script sounds simple enough, Zoom rehearsals come with their own set of mishaps. Everything from poor connections, missed cues, and overlapping dialogue, can make what should be a 3 hour read through almost 5 hours.
From the very first rehearsal, it became clear that the director and designers had a very clear idea of what they wanted the production to look like, from costumes and backdrops to lighting and sound. How the show would look had already been decided, so it was up to the actors to bring the characters and story to life, so we got busy with scene work, blocking, and memorization. Knowing this would be a new and strange experience for all of us, our director took it one day at a time. In the main Zoom room the director and designers would situate placements and movements for any given scene. While those who weren’t needed for specific scenes would work with our vocal director or memorize with the help of some understudies. Even online the theatrical process chugged away like a well oiled machine, most of the time.
The thing that was the most different, and that shocked me the most, about our “Zoom play” was that it wasn’t going to be live. I’d seen a couple of online shows produced by my high school, but they were always live over Zoom, internet problems and all. Yet, the Crucible was never going to be that. Once the show was completely blocked, everyone was memorized, and all of our tech kits and costumes had come in the mail, we were ready to film. Besides a few hiccups, the filming process was surprisingly not torturous. We’d film an act over Zoom with our cameras attached to a tripod- we practically spent more time adjusting our angles and lighting then actually acting. Then, with everything set, we’d do it all over again but film from the camera apps on our phones. Then others, luckily not me, would do it a third time, but with different camera and lighting setups. To put it simply, it was a very complicated process, but all in the name of producing a truly powerful piece of theatre that everyone involved could be proud of.
This process was rough and time consuming; those 5-9pm rehearsals always left me exhausted, but now from the finish line, I can without a doubt say that it was worth it. This production brought me back to why I wanted to do theatre in the first place, before competition, favorites, and popularity became involved. Auditions are still nerve racking, don’t get me wrong, but working with fellow artists to tell a story or to teach a lesson, there are few things that warm my heart more.
Getting the chance to bring a little bit of theatre to life during a time where so many in the arts community are out of a job and out of work only emphasized the importance of art in our society. I’m not sure about you, but I would not have made it through quarantine without television, music, or entertainment from the countless creators out there. I look forward to the return of live theatre and the joy it brings to so many.
“The Crucible” by Arthur Miller, Directed by Tasia Jones, premieres online through UIC’s School of Theatre and Music on March 5, 2021