Three SU alums talk about entering the acting world during a pandemic

What it is like entering the acting world during a pandemic

More than a year after COVID-19 shuttered theaters and production lots, three VPA musical theater alums share their frustrations and triumphs in finding work.
Published: April 28, 2021
It has been over a year since COVID-19 caused theater and production companies to shut down — these three SU alums, Carly Caviglia (left), Joshua Keen (center) and Kayla King (right) talk about their experience entering the acting world during a pandemic.
It has been over a year since COVID-19 caused theater and production companies to shut down — these three SU alums, Carly Caviglia (left), Joshua Keen (center) and Kayla King (right) talk about their experience entering the acting world during a pandemic.

It has been over a year since the COVID-19 pandemic started and the theater, television and film industries have still not made a full comeback. When they do, the industry will be a completely different world.

Broadway closed on March 12, 2020, and there is still no exact date as to when it will fully reopen. Mayor Bill de Blasio aims to open by September, though, NPR reports. As for television and film sets, they’re creating art in a completely different way with strict protocols to ensure the safety of all those involved.

With these industries being affected there is an endless list of those who want to pursue acting who can’t do it the same way others have in the past.

Kayla King, a musical theater alumna who graduated from Syracuse University in 2020, is pursuing an on-camera acting career in New York City.

Prior to the past year, there was an abundance of in-person auditions, but now almost everything is digitized.

“Auditions for film and television right now are all self-tapes,” King said. “You need a nice blank wall, you have to have good lighting… basically you’ll get sent lines and have to have someone read the ones that are not yours.”

King has booked two roles through this process, including one on FBI: Most Wanted. Although film and television have found ways to recover and progress, the world of theater in the United States has not yet reached that point.

Kayla King getting ready for a performance
King getting ready for her role in The Wild Party, a production put on during her time at SU.

Two of King’s classmates, Carly Caviglia and Joshua Keen,  also moved to NYC following their graduation in March 2020. But they chose to pursue careers on Broadway which brings an entirely different set of challenges.

SU has an extremely rigorous musical theater training program full of classes, lessons, and experiences, including living in NYC for their final semester to prepare their students for a career.

Yet, Keen chose to graduate in three years rather than the usual four. While King and Caviglia were downstate in NYC, Keen remained in Syracuse.

Although the end of his final year in college was cut short, he does not regret his choice to graduate when he did.

“I’m really appreciative that it worked out that way. A lot of my friends are paying a lot of money for virtual classes, and I just do not enjoy virtual classes at all, so I don’t feel like I’m losing out on anything,” he said.

Keen’s ultimate dream is to become a choreographer on Broadway. He’s taking steps towards that goal — even during a pandemic.

In the Fall, SU asked him to return to direct and choreograph the show that was supposed to take place last Spring. He was also hired to make dance videos for a business in the city, and he participated in a Broadway World dance competition.

Along with these opportunities, he also created his own production company to help others display their talents in the best way. Theater has not yet fully resumed but Keen has done what he can to fuel and fulfill his career aspirations.

“The industry feels halted, but personally I feel really productive,” he said.

Like Keen, Caviglia has found opportunities to still do what she loves over the past year despite the challenges of the pandemic.

She worked with a swing from Broadway’s Aladdin to create a dance video in her hometown of Visalia, California. Despite this opportunity, Caviglia said she still feels like she’s losing time to utilize the skills she trained so hard to improve.

Because so many auditions are self-takes, King said actors need to have a good self-take setup. Caviglia is singing "What Remains" by Drew Gasparini.

“My voice teacher always said, your voice is going to grow so much in the years 22 to 25, those are the prime years of your voice. Well here I am at 22, prime years of my voice, not being able to use it,” she said.

Caviglia said one of her biggest struggles is motivation. When the pandemic hit, classes shifted online, even ones that she never thought would work, like dance and movement.

Like her voice, Cabiglia feels all of her skills are in their prime, but she can’t utilize them the way she wants to.

Along with feeling unable to use their skills, many performers also struggle to know if they’re doing enough.

“It’s more internal, it’s not the lack of auditions, but just the feeling of, ‘Am I doing enough?’ Yes, we’re in the middle of the pandemic, but when things start coming back I don’t want to feel unprepared,” King said.

Theater, film and television industries will inevitably bounce back, but the three actors share the belief that it will never be the same. They said auditioning will likely maintain a virtual presence and it will be a long time before people feel comfortable attending theater in-person again.

Since the world of performance is struggling right now, there’s one thing performers and artists want people to do: support.

“Always support, and even if you can’t go or don’t want to go… donate five dollars, just support.”