The University of Nebraska-Lincoln theater company Theatrix will be performing the dramatic play “Five Mile Lake” on Saturday and Sunday at 4 p.m. But, with its in-person season canceled due to COVID-19, the troupe has been forced to get creative — now, the group is hosting a reading of the play over Zoom.
Co-director of the performance Elaine Stueve said this performance will be different, but the group would like to make it feel like part of the regular season.
“Unfortunately, because of everything that’s happening with the pandemic, we can’t meet up in a theater,” Stueve said. “We’re trying to make it as professional and as most like a Theatrix production as we can, even if it’s just a read through … It’s important to give people these opportunities, and it’s important to continue to act and provide entertainment through these times.”
The members of Theatrix said they hope they can use Zoom’s features to make the performance of “Five Mile Lake” as realistic as possible. There will be a reader of stage directions on the Zoom call — acting as the narrator, so the audience knows where characters would be standing on stage and in relation to each other. By being able to add virtual backgrounds and change the display names to be those of the characters, co-director Faye Davis said she hopes to make the reading feel like it was performed in a theater.
“Even though these circumstances are, as everyone’s been saying, unprecedented, we’re trying to make do and still make it as much of a theatrical experience as we can,” Davis said.
Complications are inevitable when a live performance is turned digital. Lag and other technical difficulties are bound to happen, as students and staff around the nation have learned in the era of online learning. Theatrix plans to use Zoom’s host controls to its advantage by automatically muting all audience members and having a moderator in the chat to reduce audience interruptions.
The chance for these technical difficulties has the opportunity to distract actors, but actress Aurora Villarreal hopes she can keep the spark of a live performance while performing through her webcam.
“When you’re acting with someone in real life, you’re able to feel the energy more. You’re able to feel the weight of their words more,” Villarreal said. “And yes, it’s different, but it’s not completely gone. When you’re on a FaceTime, you can still feel the other person’s emotions while they talk, and it’s like that. You’ve just gotta put yourself in that headspace of acting.”
Stueve said she’s confident that, if the actors stay in that headspace, the reading will still have the emotion of an on-stage production.
“Something that I continually wrote down while I was watching [rehearsal] was that the connection was actually really good, and people were listening,” Stueve said. “It was awesome to see that, even though we’re in these Zoom boxes, you could still feel how they were feeling. You saw the emotion. You could feel the hurt and the intention they were going for.”
Even though performing on Zoom makes sense now, Davis said she hopes to get back to the stage soon.
“I think [Zoom] could be a good way to work with people remotely,” Davis said. “But I’m very hungry to return to the stage and in-person theater, once it’s all safe, of course. I can’t wait for that moment when I’m actually in the same room as other people, and we’re not wearing masks because it’s safe, and there’s no cases or low cases, because that feeling is unmatched.”
One may think that because there’s no live audience right in front of the actors, it would be easy to slack at rehearsals and put on a lackluster performance, but Villarreal condemns that thought.
“I feel like it’s disrespectful in a way to commit to one of these [productions], because you have to audition for these things,” Villarreal said. “It’d just be a waste and disrespectful to the art and to those around you. You should always be committed to your projects, regardless of what it is, even if it’s ‘just a Zoom.’”
The cast and crew of “Five Mile Lake” is thankful that they’ve still been able to create their art during the pandemic. Actor Daniel Hernandez’s biggest hope is that, even though this season will be virtual, the audience takes it seriously.
“Students should not be so quick to dismiss that, just because this is a reading, the impact is any less,” Hernandez said. “I think it’s just a transitional way to get the same or the semi-same feeling of seeing actors in a space that is pending for the conditions of the world.