Players to Perform Virtually Amid Pandemic

by Kyla Guilfoil, Staff Writer

Following a hectic and abrupt ending to their spring 2020 season, the Manhattan College Players are gearing up for a strong start this fall.

The Players have made the decision to go completely virtual this semester, and will reunite on Sept. 14 for their first meeting. The goal of the virtual plan is to ensure the most safety and inclusivity possible for all members of the Players, faculty, students and any hopeful viewers. Producer/President of the Players, Sami Rini, does not think that the virtual set-up will hold students back and will actually help boost participation by both Players and viewers.

“Just the fact that I’m remote right now, and I can be a part of Players to my fullest capacity, I’m not being held back in any way by that, and that remains true for all students,” Rini said.

“Even for viewers, whether you’re remote or on campus or in quarantine, you can still just click a link and tune on.”

Production Manager/Vice President Joe Bonaventura agrees with the all-online plan. While Bonaventura is on campus this semester and theoretically could participate in in-person meetings, he feels the virtual approach is the safest plan for the group. Bonaventura and Rini are both confident that this change will not diminish the Players contribution this semester.

The group plans a full schedule for the coming weeks, with auditions for their main stage production happening shortly after the Sept. 14 meeting. Following auditions and casting, the Players will schedule rehearsals three to four times per week. However, they are not stopping there. Besides the main stage production, which is scheduled for mid or late November, the Player’s plan on a virtual Cabaret performance in October and multiple play readings throughout the semester.

Bonaventura says the number of performances has not been officially limited, and they may have even more performances than previous seasons. The hope is to keep the performing arts open and moving as much as they can through- out this time. Adviser to the Players, J.R. Caldwell, thinks this semester offers extensive opportunities this fall as well.

“I’m going to always choose the best play that’s given to me,” Caldwell said. It’s also really important for me to be doing challenging work for the students, so [cast size] varies from semester to semester. That said, this semester we’ve found a play that accommodates a lot of people and I’m very excited about that. What’s important to me is that plays are chosen that give many students opportunities to perform.”

The group overall is excited and hopeful for this season. While it is overwhelming and opens new questions to what will change and what could go wrong, both the President and Vice President feel the energy of the group is optimistic.

“[They are] incredibly supportive. Ever since I’ve been a part of Players it’s been like that, it’s super awesome,” said Rini.

“Now more than ever people are ready for that reach out; we missed out on a lot of our season last semester, which was difficult for all of us, so I think we’re all eager to be back.”

It is important the group holds onto live performance, so there will be no pre-recorded performances included in this virtual plan. Bonaventura spoke about the impact of a live performance. While he said there definitely will be a different feel to a virtual performance, keeping everything live will help maintain the magic. Caldwell echoed an appreciation of the in-person chemistry and a hope for sufficient adjustment.

“There are certain things I am going to miss, of course,” Caldwell said. “We were able to build a community in a room when we’re not rehearsing, and how to recreate that kind of atmosphere is a concern. Because, while we’re there to get work done, and to put on a show, this is also about fraternity, about building relationships, so it’ll be interesting to see how we do that. I’ve got some ideas, [I’m] excited to try them out.”

Of course, this plan introduces the question of technology. Bonaventura is a major contributor to the tech-related work of the shows. Usually Bonaventura builds sets, but he will have to take much more time working with virtual technology this season. Along with sets, technical production is going to be a huge responsibility for members; the show will be foundationally very different.

“If one thing goes down the whole show can go down,” Bonaventura said. “There’s no guarantee on it, [a lot] depends on the software.”

However, there is a lot that technology can offer. The group is currently continuing research on which online services will best provide their performances to viewers. Rini shared that they are hoping to work with technology to create virtual scenery that individual Players can use in their backgrounds to create a more complete viewing experience.

Caldwell believes that Zoom will be the best format to rehearse on and use to connect Players during performances. Because of Zoom’s features, including an option to specifically arrange the boxes which showcase each performer, he feels the platform is best for performances.

Along with Zoom, the Players will use a streaming service to reach viewers. Caldwell’s top choice is currently Twitch, a streaming service used primarily by gamers. From his research and connections, Caldwell believes this is the group’s best streaming option, and offers the most robust features. Essentially, the Players will live stream themselves through Zoom, those visuals will be arranged according to the performance, and viewers will access the Zoom images through a streaming service, likely Twitch.

Some performances will not be possible via virtual production. These plays are generally described as in-depth plays and require more physical interaction. For example, the Players usually perform a murder mystery show every October, but this particular performance will not be possible through a virtual platform. As a replacement for these shows, there will be virtual play readings.

The readings will be very stripped down, with no script required, as a very raw version of the play that does not include physical sets or interaction. These readings will offer viewers a unique opportunity to see the performing arts in a way they may have not before. Rini hopes that these readings will help give the Players as many opportunities as possible this fall.

While the Players were not able to disclose the name of this semester’s main stage production, they did offer some insight into what to expect. According to Rini, this show will be unlike any show they’ve done yet, not just because of the virtual aspect, but because they’ve chosen a unique production not yet taken on by the Manhattan Players.

“Students will be providing their costumes for the most part for the show, but I would be having them do that anyways, because this is a type of show that is very much actor run and actor based, so it’s not dependent upon fancy costumes,” Caldwell said. “Or sets for that matter, it’s a pretty bare-bones piece.”

While the Players are hopeful to keep the spirit of performing arts alive, there will be some undeniable changes to the art form this semester. Bonaventura expressed that this may be the new future, specifically how virtual shows are likely to replace in-person performances for longer than this fall term. In his opinion, this is going to be a preview into the future of performing arts and virtual adjustments will be a key aspect to everything going on in the future. Nonetheless, he, Rini, Caldwell and the rest of the Players have high hopes for this semester.

“I am approaching this fall as I did last fall, with the same amount of enthusiasm,” Caldwell said. “If anything, maybe more, because as a theater maker–and I feel like you can say this about all theater makers–is that, we thrive on challenge. In fact, the act of doing theater is always a challenge. In counterintelligence, solving problems and making things happen. So, yeah, we’re facing some substantial challenges this semester, but, like I said, I find that to be exciting.”

The Players are eager for new members to join in act- ing, production, video editing, recording, and more. If any student on campus/remote is interested to take part in this exciting season unlike any other, contact the Players at