North Carolina Central University’s Theatre Program has found a way to adjust to the changes and shifts COVID-19 has caused.
“Theatre is not like we know it,” said N.C. Central’s Theater Department Chair Stephanie Howard, also known as Dr. Asabi.
Howard who also serves as a theatre professor stated that N.C. Central’s theatre is no longer allowed to be filled to capacity.
According to North Carolina state laws, there can’t be any indoor gatherings over 25 people. Since the law prohibits any large crowd performances, Howard explained, N.C. Central’s Theatre Program has adapted by distributing its productions through Zoom, streaming, and, film.
“It’s so funny because I never imagined myself as a film director because I love the stage so much,” said Howard. “Now I’m like this film person thinking about what kind of shot do I want?”
When COVID-19 first occurred during the spring 2020 semester, N.C. Central transitioned to remote learning. Howard explained that she had to teach her classes primarily through Zoom, an online video conferencing platform.
Howard stated that Zoom added special features to help theatre classes such as allowing users to edit their background and focus.
“While I appreciate Zoom for being good to us it almost drove me crazy,” said Howard. “It’s like I can’t watch another play on Zoom anymore.”
During the fall semester N.C. Central invited students to live on campus and attend in-person, online, it hybrid classes.
Currently, Howard holds hybrid style classes which allow her and students to in-person at least once a week, which includes her largest class with 17 students.
N.C. Central’s Theatre Program has produced one film since the start of the fall 2020 semester.
According to Howard, the film was a 10-minute one-person scene done for the Burning Cole Theatre Company, a theatre company located in Raleigh, N.C.
During this fall semester, N.C. Central’s Theatre Department is working on a project called “Facing Our Truth” which is a series of plays that address social issues in America such as race, police brutality, and privilege, according to Howard. These plays will be ten minutes long and include multi-person scenes.
Two obstacles that Howard and her students have faced during the production of the multi-person scenes are social distancing and wearing their face masks on camera.
N.C. Central senior acting student Alan Franks Jr. revealed that acting has much to do with facial expressions as well as physical touch. He explained how he feels it will be more difficult to convey his message to the audience without facial expressions.
“It’s going to be hard as far as showing facial expressions because you need that for the audience to feel you,” said Franks. “With the mask being in the way it could probably take away from the actual performance.”
N.C. Central senior Zora Umeadi, who is majoring in acting and voice, explained that working with masks is just a challenge that will force actors to improve their body language skills.
“I think it will add more dynamic because as actors we can say 1000 words with just our face but now this challenges us to make our body embody the character,” said Umeadi.
Howard explained that due to her students not being used to wearing masks and keeping a six-feet distance she has had to become a “COVID cop” to make sure they follow protocols.
“I think they forget easily so I do feel like I am the COVID cop sometimes,” said Howard.
Howard explained that she finds herself telling her students to put their masks on, not to eat in class and that they’re too close to each other.
Howard explained, with all of today’s circumstances taken into account she believes her students are coming along and are learning to follow the rules.
“I think they came in being accepting and ready to comply as much as they can,” said Howard. “I think just by nature of everything their age group is just a little less concerned because they can handle it better.”
Umeadi explained that although she forgets to follow protocol sometimes, she believes she has had to take on the role of a leader by adhering to the rules in the belief her peers will follow.
“I do forget sometimes but being that I’m a little older and I’m a senior, I think that I have to set an example because people look up to me,” said Umeadi.
According to Umeadi, one of the plays they are working on is called “The Ballad of George Zimmerman,” with Zimmerman being the 28-year old mixed-race man who was accused of murdering Trayvon Martin, a 17-year old African-American boy in 2012. In 2013, Zimmerman was acquitted of all charges which led to a nationwide outburst for justice in the black community.
Umeadi says this play is about the contrast of George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin’s emotions in which Martin is a ghost haunting Zimmerman.
Franks, who is playing Trayvon Martin, said the audience should expect a different spin on the incident between Zimmerman and Martin.
“It’s going to be a very unique spin on the incident that happened years ago by picking the brain of George Zimmerman and what his mindset,” said Franks.
Howard concluded that the future of N.C. Central’s Theatre Department will remain the same, and they will continue to produce plays.