By Lucy Abigail Albright, Jennifer Ward and Tyler Thompson
Theater returns to the greater Purchase community after a year and a half of social distancing. For the first time since lockdown, plays will be open to students and faculty outside of the acting and theater design technology programs. Two plays, “Sweat” and “Everybody” opened Oct. 2 and will run through Oct. 9.
“I'm super excited to be back in performing in front of a big audience,” said Darian Negron-Ortiz, a senior acting major who will be performing in “Sweat.”
“Sweat” will have an audience capacity of 47 people, and tickets for the show must be reserved ahead of time. At the time of this publishing, the opening nights for “Sweat” and “Everybody” are fully booked. Yet you can still get on the waiting list for the chance to see later performances!
For these actors, the play marks the first time they’ll be able to touch on stage, forgoing the 6 foot distance required back in the spring. Acting major Francis Pàce-Nuñez says that touch serves an important role in “Sweat,” illustrating the relationships between the characters. The play takes place in a bar, which would make social distancing difficult.
“When you’re in a bar,” Pàce-Nuñez said, “you're sloppy, you’re all over each other, you're shoulder to shoulder.” Without touch, the play would have been very different.
Though social distancing is no longer required, masks are still in use.
“There's a slight comedy of we're in a bar, but we can't drink anything because we have masks on,” said Abigail Burris, a senior acting major. Throughout most of the play, bottles and cups are empty and actors pretend to drink.
Senior acting major Tatiana Graves-Kochuthara said that shouting her lines often causes her mask to slip down, forcing her to readjust it. “I have to focus on my safety here, which then sacrifices the moment of that scene, which is rough,” she said.
Cezar Williams, the director of "Sweat," said that certain scenes had to be altered or removed in order to accommodate masks. A kiss scene and a scene where characters mouth a word both were affected.
The masks don’t lead to all negative consequences though.
“The beauty of it is, I think it makes you focus on the words, more so, because you can only see half the actors' faces,” Williams said.
Performers' mental health has been brought to the surface as well. With shows finally in full swing, the effect that may have on performers is detrimental. Williams acknowledges that although the work is important, the students come first.
“We’ve all experienced loss at different levels, different varieties, and different ways that caring for the people seems much more important than it did before.” Williams said, “Going into this process knowing that I don’t know what someone has been through, what someone may still be going through, has been a challenge but it's the job.”
During the fall of 2020, a group of acting students caught COVID. Due to the program being online that semester, sick students were still able to attend class. Leah, who asked that her real name not be used, said that it was scary not knowing if her peers would be okay, and was thankful that the outbreak was isolated. Leah herself caught COVID, and attended classes from bed.
“I was in bed, in classes, trying to do my work while also feeling like I'm actively dying,” Leah said.
Leah’s professors were supportive during this time and would call to check in with her and send supplies. She said that the experience brought people closer together. Though attending classes and working on shows while sick wasn’t mandatory, she saw it as a way that students could stay positive and keep their fear at bay.
COVID also brought financial challenges for the theater program. Abigail Citarella, lead costume designer for “Sweat”, believes that the pandemic has negatively affected the budget of the play. According to Citarella, although “Sweat” is being performed in person, it has the same budget as an equivalent show that was done over Zoom last semester.
“The same show which we're doing right now—the same slot, same thing, but now full in-person show—still has a budget of $200,” said Citarella, “so it makes that a lot harder.”
Though some aspects of the theater experience are returning to normal, theater at Purchase is not yet post-COVID. Compared to Broadway, where actors are tested regularly and can go maskless, Burris said that Purchase College is “still very much in COVID World.”
For Negron-Ortiz, Purchase theater won’t be post-COVID until actors can perform without masks.
“As much as being able to touch each other and being able to have contact again is amazing and beautiful,” Negron-Ortiz said, “the masks still cut off about half of our instrument.”