UM’s theater department adapting to COVID-19 with outdoor rendition of “The Frogs”

This story was reported and written by Lillianna Fedewa and Sofia Vazquez

For almost two years, the University of Miami’s theater program enforced strict on-stage mask mandates during the few productions not cancelled because of the pandemic. But that all changed on Oct. 23, when the first of three fall semester musicals was moved outdoors.

“The Frogs,” an ancient Greek comedy by Aristophanes, is based on the legends of the Greek God, Dionysus, and was originally performed in an outdoor amphitheater. UM’s rendition was held on Saturday at the UC Pool on the university’s Coral Gables campus.

Christian Miller, a sophomore studying musical theater and member of the chorus ensemble in “The Frogs,” said the pool was the perfect setting for the performance.

“It allows us to explore and makes it a lot more believable to the audience as well to see the actors playing frogs in a pool representing the River Styx,” Miller said. “The most exciting part of the play is the huge ‘Frogs’ number that incorporates the pool. It’s so absurd to watch.”

Michael Bush, a professor of practice and artistic director, has spent the last year and a half working to adapt the theater department to allow for performances without the use of masks.

The Virtual Theatre Company in Massachusetts was one of the first programs to hold a play outdoors during the pandemic, and it worked well, Bush said. By putting on the shows outside, the theater department is able to satisfy the university’s COVID-19 protocols and use the outdoor locations as a part of the setting for each show.

“We were looking for places where we could find something that would work out, so we came up with three specific musicals,” Bush said.

The three musicals to be performed during this year’s fall semester are “The Frogs,” “Godspell” and “Into the Woods.”

The theater department plans to keep the productions outside until the university’s COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, Bush said. While “The Frogs” was hosted at the campus pool, “Godspell” and “Into the Woods” will be done behind the School of Architecture prior to Thanksgiving break.

“UM is trying their best to make our experience as performance students as normal as possible,” said Eve Cohn, who plays handmaiden and chorus ensemble in “The Frogs.” “We cannot wait to perform for an audience,” she said prior to the first outdoor performance.

Outdoor theater performances will be a first for the university, as performances are typically held in either the Jerry Herman Ring Theatre or the Studio Theatre. Bush said that because the outdoor spaces are often in use, the department practiced mostly indoors.

Cohen, a sophomore musical theater major, said that while the restrictions have made production difficult, everyone is doing their part to make outdoor performances possible.

“Performing is very intimate, and there’s a lot of face-to-face action that we’re missing out on, but I think that with the circumstances that we have in the moment we’re definitely making the most of it,” Cohen said.

Although this semester will still be different for UM’s theater department, students agreed that performing outside is a small price to pay for the opportunity to do what they love.

“The essence of performing arts is still very much alive,” said Sasha Lippis, a sophomore musical theatre major. “I think actors have a lot of heart. As long as you have that heart behind your work, you can do what you need to do.”