Few college majors are impacted as much as the University of Miami theater students by the COVID-19 pandemic. Navigating how to safely perform amidst a global health crisis poses a plethora of challenges.
This upcoming spring, the UM theater department plans to put on three performances. The first is “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” based on the novel by Mark Haddon, adapted by Simon Stephens from Mar. 4-11. Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” follows on Mar. 31-April 3. Finally, “Cabaret, made famous by the music of John Kander and lyrics of Fred Ebb, debuts from Apr. 21-30.
Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) candidate Scarlett Diaz, a junior musical theater major from New Jersey, is overjoyed to be a part of “Cabaret” after five unusual semesters.
“I’ve gotta make sure I’m making up for lost time,” Diaz said. “I gotta really ensure I’m looking at it like this is my semester and I get to go to school every day and do what I love.”
“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time” and “Cabaret” are both scheduled to occur inside the historic Jerry Herman Ring Theater. “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” takes place in the forest and therefore is scheduled to perform outside, providing additional health safety measures.
Diaz says “Cabaret” will be taking place “in the round,” meaning the audience is seated on all four sides of the stage. The structure not only works for the musical, but also allows for more social distancing. Capacity of The Ring is 306 seats, but it will not be full this spring.
Maria Usaga, box office manager of The Ring Theater, expressed the theater department’s compliance with the university’s events and activities guidelines.
“We are taking additional safety measures, reducing the seat capacity by 50% (150 seats) and creating seat pods once we start to sell tickets to allow for social distancing inside the theater,” Usaga said.
For the upcoming productions, students in the cast and crew will complete a mandatory PCR test two days prior to the first performance and a rapid test each show day. This differs from last semester where the cast only had to test twice the week prior to performances to perform without masks.
Performers do not plan to be masked in the upcoming productions if they receive negative test results. They will remain masked for all rehearsals and backstage. The crew and audience members will also be required to wear masks.
Shea Hittman, university stage management lecturer and advisor, has a background working on a COVID-19 emergency operations team. She found her comprehensive knowledge of the virus useful working in the arts.
“Masking really is one of the best tools to conquer the virus and keep it at bay,” Hittman said.
This past fall production season, each show was only given a one weekend run opposed to the standard two weekends. The plan for the spring is to bring back two weekends of shows. This will give students, families and friends more opportunities to see their loved ones perform.
“It’s really cool getting to share this really crucial part of me with my friends outside of theater,” Diaz said. “And I also am so excited to see my friends in their respective shows this season.”
According to the health guidelines the theater department adheres to, all audience members attending the performances must review and agree to comply with the safety guidelines as part of check out when purchasing tickets.
These guidelines include wearing facial coverings, completion of the symptom checker and agreement to participate in contract tracing in the event of a positive COVID test within 48 hours of attending the performance.
Hittman expressed her fear of working around college students in a pandemic and the measures she takes to feel safe include testing when she can and consistent mask use. Hittman applauded UM’s commitment to following all provided safety guidelines.
“I think that in terms of adapting and managing to put on any shows, this school year is something to be proud of,” Hittman said. “It’s a feat of its own.”
Additionally, audience members will be expected to practice social distancing in the theater. If any audience members are traveling internationally a week prior to the event, they will need to submit a negative COVID-19 test to attend.
“We are trying our very best to ensure our shows go on as planned,” Usaga said. “Keeping everyone in the department and our community safe and healthy along the way.”
According to Usaga, as UM’s COVID protocols evolve, the department will make any necessary changes to remain up to date with the safest health measures.