Coming to You Live

Despite the global pandemic shutting down performance spaces across the globe, the students in Pace’s School of Performing Arts were able to bring their craft to the small screen. Get an inside look at how they produced two live virtual performances this fall.

While the curtains closed on live performances around the globe as a precaution during the pandemic, the intrepid students in Pace’s Performing Arts program set out to do what a lot of other performing artists across the nation had already written off as a foregone conclusion—perform.

While this virtual performance medium was new and untested, the students, faculty and staff at Pace’s School of Performing Arts looked at the limitation of not being able to do a live performance as a way to expand their creative horizons. This fall, they successfully put on live virtual productions of The Last Days of Judas Iscariot and Blue Ridge, utilizing Zoom and green screen technology.

“We went from being [stage] managers of physical things to managers of virtual things. So that was a new experience to work with actors and teach them new programs as we learned them ourselves and explore what this world looks like, as well as take care of a director who also hadn't explored [virtual theater] and didn't really know what this is going to look like,” explains Ashton Pickering ’21, a stage management major. “And neither did we! We kept talking about a tangible future that we have never experienced ourselves. So, we'd have to be like, ‘Yeah, it's going to happen. Mm-hmm,’ and just move forward.”

The production teams for each performance sent green screens, props, cameras, lighting, and audio equipment to the actors—some of whom were on-campus in our NYC residence halls and some as far away as Texas. As they worked towards their live performance dates, the team utilized Zoom break-out rooms and video conferencing to create a digitally seamless look—working within the bounds of Zoom boxes to create an unforgettable audience experience. 

“For costuming, typically a lot of what I do is come up with ideas and designs with the director and then go out shopping all over the city for everything,” says BFA in Production and Design student Amelia Camilo ’21. “Instead, I was shopping through people's closets on late-night Zoom calls, which was really fun. It was really collaborative to use what the actors own and come up with ideas together. But it was just completely different from what that normally looks like.” 

For Caleb Polacek ’22, his role as assistant production manager and broadcast design programmer was challenging in this unproven live format. “I found it a little constraining, especially programming-wise, as there is only so much we could do with Zoom boxes,” he says. “But there was a lot that we could do with just editing and manipulating the video. I think the biggest barrier was not knowing what we could do, so it was definitely learning in that sense.” 

People from all over the globe were able to tune in to the performances—some watching from as far away as Turkey and China—giving the 70 plus students an opportunity to showcase their talents to family and friends who had never before been able to attend a performance at Pace. 

“My extended family has never been able to see a show at Pace, only my parents, because of just where it's located,” says Pickering. “A lot of my family is located on the West Coast and for the first time in like 10 years, all of my family members actually got to see a production I was a part of, which was crazy. It was really nice to have a college production and be able to be portrayed so that families could actually attend. And I know a lot of students felt that way, as well.”

The Zoom production also added a level of intimacy that often isn’t felt in live theater—bringing facial expressions and emotions up-close and personal for viewers at home. For Graham Kindred, head of Pace’s BFA in Production and Design program, the integration of Zoom into productions creates an interesting artistic tension—the ability to see people up close, but also from a digital distance—excites him and he’s eager to see how it will be used in the spring productions. 

“It was really impressive to see how these young people took the base skill levels that we gave them for theater and found ways to work with those skill sets and adapt them to whatever this new reality is,” says Kindred. “I think I'm just really impressed by their determination and resilience to produce such amazing work in times like these.”

Ready to see what they have in store for spring? Check out the upcoming shows and mark your calendar now.

Students in the Pace School of Performing Arts commercial dance program haven't let COVID stop them. This semester, DancesPace went virtual as Pace students around the globe joined together for a toe-tapping, high-kicking ensemble dance performance. Ready to see the full performance? Hit play.