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The show did not go on: The life of theatre arts students during the pandemic

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The Arizona Repertory Theatre is located at 1025 N. Olive Road.

It has been over a year since the United States has been under restrictions due to coronavirus. As time progressed, some businesses could open with restrictions. Theatre playhouses though remained mostly closed. This left thousands of established and aspiring actors without work, forcing them to look elsewhere in unfamiliar fields. 

It also left a lot of college students unable to start their classes, many of which need to be held in person because theatre is about a community of people. Theatre students need person-to-person contact, especially when classes first start so you can get to know one another. 

University of Arizona senior Adriana Acedo Campillo said she knew this better than anyone. 

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Acedo Campillo is a double major in theatre arts and film and television. She is also a dual citizen of the U.S. and Mexico. She was born in Yuma, but lived much of her life in Sonora, Mexico. After spending four years at the UA, she said it was difficult not being able to be around her peers. 

“I am a people person, and I love being around the community,” Acedo Campillo said. “The first half of the semester was my denial phase during the pandemic. I could not believe that this was happening. I like surrounding myself with people, and it was hard not being able to see my friends, family or anyone.”

Acedo Campillo was fortunate enough in that she was a part of productions during the pandemic. Though it was nice to be on set, it did not have the same feeling that Acedo Campillo is used to feeling.

“Being on set is completely different from what I am used too,” Acedo Campillo said. “There were [COVID-19] tests frequently, double masking and social distancing. We had to make sure there was no risk whatsoever, which is hard in a pandemic. I was very lucky to be on a set where nothing happened, but it has been a different experience.”

While Acedo Campillo was fortunate enough to act in person during the pandemic, many of her fellow theatrical performers were not. Freshman Alyssa DiRaimondo is a theatre production major from Crystal Lake, Illinois. DiRaimondo was not involved in any productions when the pandemic hit but having to shutter herself indoors was not easy.

“It was definitely tricky,” DiRaimondo said. “The pandemic was hard on everyone. You are stuck in [your home] and there is not much you can do [as an actor].”

One thing DiRaimondo really said she misses is seeing the audience members' reactions during a show. 

“[I miss] seeing people’s facial expressions,” DiRaimondo said. “When acting, I love seeing people’s facial expressions. It adds so much more to the piece.”

Many UA theatre students were affected by the pandemic before they even began their first year of college. Freshman Clayton Lukens is from Camas, Washington. After being accepted into the UA as a musical theatre major, Lukens had one final high school theatrical production before he officially became a college student. He was the lead role in the musical “How to succeed in business without really trying.” Once he heard that the pandemic was shutting down the production, Lukens said he was devastated. 

“The production was canceled the day before it was supposed to open,” Lukens said. “We were originally supposed to only leave school for two weeks, but I thought there was no way [we would be back in two].”

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With Lukens and the entire state of Washington entering quarantine, he said he realized that he was not going to be able to perform with any friends for a long time. Lukens gave his take about life in quarantine as a performer. 

“It was hard,” Lukens said. “I had such a connection to the community that would come out and cheer us on at the shows. It was hard to lose that.”

Lukens wanted to perform one more time in high school, but it did not happen. Lukens said he prided himself on being an optimistic person. Even during the chaos, he tried his best to find the good in his time with his high school production.

“Eventually, I realized that I got the entire rehearsal experience,” Lukens said. “I still had the camaraderie [with the entire cast].”

Another incoming freshman who saw his dreams cut short was Brach Drew, a musical theatre major and Spanish minor from Tempe. Unlike Lukens, Drew was able to close out his high school senior production “Seussical,” a musical based on various Dr. Seuss books. After the musical, Drew participated in the ASU Gammage High School Musical Awards, a local competition for musical theatre students. Drew was named "Best Male Lead." Whoever wins best lead actor and actress gets to compete at the Jimmy Awards, a national musical theatre competition in New York City, which became an epicenter for COVID-19. The competition was canceled, and Drew said he was crushed.

“It was a dark time [for me],” Drew said. “The jealousy [I felt towards] the past kids who got to go there and the extreme discomfort and mourning that I had for that opportunity. That opportunity could have given me so many chances to be seen and be signed by an agent. Ever since my freshman year [in high school], I told myself that I was going to win and that I was going to go to the Jimmy awards … and I did not get to go, and I was heartbroken.”

While losing out on an experience like that can be tough, the UA is doing its part in getting student actors back to work. The University of Arizona School of Theatre, Film & Television teamed up with Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre to create the production “From the Fishbowl,” directed by Wolfe Bowart. Professor Claire Mannle discussed what the film is about and who helped it come to life. 

“From the Fishbowl is a devised production that is original work created by students,” Mannle said. “It was crafted and managed by internationally acclaimed physical theatre artist, Wolfe Bowart.”

Mannle said she was proud of how the UA theatre department was able to use the difficult restrictions that COVID-19 brought to their advantage.

“This is a production that incorporates all different sorts of media due to the unique circumstances that we find ourselves,” Mannle said. “There is live theatre, zoom and filmed performances. It is a combination of all three forms of those media.”

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While there will, unfortunately, be no guests allowed in the theatre to watch “From the Fishbowl,” viewers are still able to watch online until April 18. Tickets for "From the Fishbowl" are available online.

Theatre arts are making a comeback, and it is starting right here at the UA. Even though many actors, like Drew, lost opportunities and memories that would last a lifetime, Drew did not lose faith. While playhouses were shuttered and actors were left without work, Drew knew this was not the end. 

“There is light at the end of the tunnel,” Drew said. “When Broadway was closed and everything was shut down, I had hope for the future. I knew that nobody could live without live performance. That is something that will never leave us. That connection that a performer has with an audience member is something that can never be replaced. It is a tangible energy that is indescribable and irreplaceable.”


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UA COVID-19 Test Tracker

Daily (5/7)
271 1 0.4%
Total (8/4)
266,976 4,348 1.6%
Includes tests since August 4, 2020
Data from https://covid19.arizona.edu/updates
Updated May 7, 2021