SU drama students practice the art of performing at home

SU drama students practice the art of performing at home

Students adopt new ways to stay creative amid distance learning as COVID-19 lockdown orders prevent them from accessing the theater.
Published: April 17, 2020
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SU drama students will not return to the stage this semester, but have found ways to work on their theater skills from home.

Maddie Lentz moves her bedroom furniture out of the way and prepares to film a callback audition for Matilda, one of the main stage shows the Syracuse University Department of Drama hopes to perform in the fall semester. When she’s not working on callback auditions, the first-year musical theater major spends her time reading scripts, including one from the popular Broadway musical Dear Evan Hansen.

“I read them like you would [read] a book,” Lentz said. “If it’s a musical, I read the libretto and listen to the music as well.”

The New York City resident focuses on drawing as another way to express herself. From body art and Playbill covers to Disney princesses, Lentz enjoys staying creative during this period of isolation.

Distance learning has quickly become the new normal and Lentz admitted adapting to this new environment proposes challenges. Especially for drama majors who spend the majority of their time in dance and acting studios, voice practice rooms, black box space and, perhaps most importantly, the theater.

“Theater is such an ensemble group effort, it is really difficult to get the same education by yourself at home,” Lentz said.

These studio-based classes, like ballet and acting, are not the same quality when taught online and have become mostly writing-based. Lentz said some of her assignments include uploading self-recorded clips based on her professors’ prompts in order to develop techniques normally taught in person. This past week, Lentz and her classmates spent time creating a video practicing their tai chi form for their Movement for Actors class.

“Obviously, our teachers are amazing and are doing the best that they can, but it can get frustrating when you don’t feel like you are growing as an artist and instead just trying to get through the semester,” Lentz explained.

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Lentz recently recreated a trend she found on TikTok, where artists draw bodies and color them in to resemble thermo heat.

Junior Alex Giganti expressed similar views.

“Over Zoom, there is definitely a sense of ‘I’m performing for the computer’ because you can’t work with the energy of the room like you normally would,” said Giganti, whose classes involve a lot of physical engagement.

The acting student likes to go to a separate corner of his apartment and perform everything from class assignments to self-taught monologues. One assignment he’s recently completed, titled “Sneak into the Frame,” for his Clown Technique class, requires students to transform into clowns and creepily appear on the screen. Giganti is learning to enjoy the art of performing with no interruptions. He takes pleasure in having some control over the final product with no pressure to be perfect the first time around.

“When you’re alone, there’s more freedom to play and be silly and take risks. Of course, those are all things that we want to be able to do in front of people, but the freedom of being alone can be very helpful,” he said.

Giganti spends his own time reading SU Professor Rick Pak’s weekly list of plays, watching films, and performing monologues to remind himself of what it feels like to act.

He originally hoped to return to the stage this semester. Unfortunately, the production was postponed due to the coronavirus and SU’s switch to online learning. That play is now set to open in December, but Giganti worries about keeping the play fresh in his head without getting bored or distracted by future productions.

“To put a rehearsal process on pause like that is something that I’ve never experienced, and I’m looking forward to seeing what that looks like,” said Giganti.