Canceled Productions: Art in a Time of COVID-19

The night before Così fan tutte was scheduled to open this past Wednesday, the entire cast, crew, orchestra, creative team, and every voice faculty member gathered on the stage of Hall Auditorium as Dean of the Conservatory William Quillen officially announced that the opera would be closed to the general public.

The show must go on — even if the audience is banned from attending. Aside from the two tickets that every cast member is allowed to give friends and family, Hall Auditorium will be empty as the show is performed. The audience, instead, will be watching the show from computers or TV screens as it is livestreamed tonight at 8 p.m.

In the age of COVID-19, the question we are all forced to ask is a new version of “If a tree falls …”: If a production is performed in front of a small-to-absent audience, is it really a show at all?

“There is a magical and energizing relationship between audience and performers,” wrote Conservatory fifth-year Tori Tedeschi Adams, who plays Despina in Così fan tutte. “I do not believe that this will be lost just because our audience will be mostly virtual.”

When it was still a possibility that classes would continue on campus after Spring break, the Multicultural Resource Center remained optimistic that they could livestream Colors of Rhythm tonight.

“The excitement and significance for this show is too great to just cancel, especially amidst the current climate,” Assistant Director of the MRC, Iliana Velez, wrote in a statement to the Review on Wednesday. “We’re prepared to deliver a meaningful performance for the community.”

Following the decision to send students home this Monday, Colors of Rhythm has been canceled. The decision to switch to remote classes means productions like these, as well as senior recitals, plays, and musicals will never make it to the stage.

OBurlesque’s Spring show scheduled for Tuesday, March 17 has also been canceled. Productions scheduled for the rest of this semester that will never be performed include Oberlin Musical Theater Association’s Oklahoma!, Oberlin Student Theater Association’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, OSTA’s Roots, the annual Spring Back show, and many more.

Students have spent nearly every day of the semester in rehearsal for Oberlin Theater Department’s mainstage Peter and the Starcatcher, which was set to open in April. As of Thursday morning, the cast was still called to rehearsal and planned to be off-book by March 17 — all of which came to a halt after receiving the latest news about remote classes.

“It was my first mainstage production [in a] leading role,” said College fourth-year Amy Wang, who was cast to play Molly in Peter and the Starcatcher. “I was very excited to be, at least in my four years of Oberlin, the first Asian leading role in a mainstage production.”

In the Conservatory, students face canceled senior recitals scheduled for later in the semester. There are no answers as to how this special moment in a Conservatory student’s education could be replaced, though Quillen has sent emails confirming that this degree requirement will not impact student’s ability to graduate.

Performance-based classes in the Conservatory and College are more difficult to hold via Zoom than lecture-style courses. Many music, visual arts, acting, and dancing classes will need to be completely reworked or replaced with new classes entirely.

“We do not know yet in what form classes and performances will resume after spring break,” wrote Chair of Theater Caroline Jackson Smith in an email to the department. “In the meantime, we are working hard to problem-solve and develop alternatives for traditional classes and performances.”

While we don’t have many answers, what we can do is adapt. Wang explained that, in China, movie theaters have shut down because of the outbreak; now, movies are screened in collaboration with TikTok. She hopes that artists will find creative alternatives during this time.

“Maybe because of these challenges we face, we might come up with something that is more sustainable in the future and resilient to stuff like this,” Wang said.