Pandemic or no, we’ll put on the show. That’s the word at Harford Community College, where, come fall, students will perform “The Importance of Being Earnest” — whether onstage or online.
“One way or another, we’re going to do the play,” said Ben Fisler, associate professor of theater at HCC. Should COVID-19 intervene, he says, the drama troupe will deliver a virtual performance of the Oscar Wilde classic.
Can’t be done, you say? This crew has already done it. Last spring, when the pandemic closed the campus, students used Zoom to produce an original 28-minute comedy, “The Mind of a Child,” and posted it on the college’s website.
“All of the artists I know have treated these times as an opportunity to experiment, rather than a complete and total shutdown of their creative energies.”
Ben Fisler, associate professor of theater at Harford Community College
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Their effort may have set the stage for performances yet to come, said Haydn Floros, a sophomore who took part in the play.
“It was difficult at first, with everyone performing from their own homes and saying their lines to a non-audience,” said Floros, 20, of Aberdeen. “I did it from my dining room. But we got the hang of it and got through it.”
Virtual performances are catching on in the arts world. In June, for instance, the streaming platform Quibi released an online version of the classic film “The Princess Bride” using quarantined actors such as Hugh Jackman and Jennifer Garner. Locally, Motor House, a Baltimore arts center, planned to stream a theater production, “Variations on Vision,” in August. And the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra also plans to stream a number of digital concerts this fall. Harford’s acting troupe tackled the concept early on.
A theater major, Floros began role-playing as a 6-year-old when he dressed up as a pirate, aka Captain Hook. At C. Milton Wright High, he played meaty parts, from Mr. Collins in “Pride and Prejudice” to Mr. Mushnik in “Little Shop of Horrors.”
With community theaters shuttered over the summer, Floros sought to stay sharp by reading his old scripts and tackling some of Shakespeare’s plays.
“I read ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ and ‘Richard III’ for fun,” he said. “Sometimes I’ll pick out soliloquies and try to memorize them, to build my memory skills. It’s upsetting not to have the chance to practice what you’re meant to do. [The coronavirus] is keeping us from our work and bringing characters to life and touching the audience’s emotions and making them laugh or cry. I’m ready to get back on the stage.”
The college boasts four theaters on campus and nearly 30 theater majors who produce six plays a year. The program will kick off its 15th season in November with “The Importance of Being Earnest” — the first play that students performed there in 2006.
“We’ll audition virtually [in September] and then see what we can and cannot do on campus,” said Fisler, who’s in his 14th year at HCC. “The biggest challenge to a virtual performance is that of the chemistry between actors. As for settings and props, we hope to have our production staff come into the lab, in a socially distant way, and Photoshop the backgrounds.”
It’s the technical wizardry that appeals to students like Dakara Bon, 19, a sophomore from Bel Air. Last spring, she edited “The Mind of a Child,” which was recorded in two takes, after which Bon combed through the scenes to create the finished product.
“It took a couple of days to do, but it was fun, like a puzzle that you get to put together,” said Bon, who attended Bel Air High.
“Dakara is bright, thoughtful and eager to try new forms,” Fisler said. “As soon as we said we were going to do a Zoom, she said, ‘I want to do this.' Her framing devices and the music she added were adorable.”
That the pandemic has added a new wrinkle (cyber plays) to Harford’s theater program is a plus, said Fisler.
“All of the artists I know have treated these times as an opportunity to experiment, rather than a complete and total shutdown of their creative energies,” he said. “We don’t always have the opportunity to say, ‘Try this and see what happens.’ Vaudeville was a great way for young actors to fall flat on their faces and learn from it. This is much the same.”