The show must go on at Essential Theatre


Official event flyer. Photo courtesy Essential Theatre

Amid limitations and guidelines established due to COVID-19, Florida A&M University’s Essential Theatre program has still managed to perform and showcase student talent. From Wednesday through today, Oct. 18, a live performance and virtual on-demand streaming of “The New Black Fest’s Hands Up: 7 Playwrights, 7 Testaments” has been available for all to view.

The streamed performances were free for all FAMU students and pass holders with varying regular ticket pricing from $8 — $15 with the ability to donate. The College of Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities detailed how the streaming worked, providing video streaming information following the purchase of a ticket. After the initial performance, ticket purchasers had access to stream the performances for the remainder of the evening. The decision for how performances and production were going to be executed during a predominately remote fall semester called for innovative thinking.

“By its nature theater most often requires intimate interaction between actors, directors, designers, etc.,”  Luther Wells, a FAMU professor and associate director of theater, said. “Like everything else we’re having to find ways to continue to make the art and reach audiences, while adhering to CDC guidelines of face coverings and safe social spacing. It obviously impacts the types of plays that we can do, and how they are offered.”

The selection of plays to produce, and the overall production, had to be reconsidered and reworked to ensure safety for students, faculty and staff during the global pandemic. Starting at the drawing board, a plan was comprised to engage students and allow them to present worldwide.

“We have certainly had to be adaptable on all levels,” said Valencia Matthews, dean of the CSSAH and former chair of the Theater Department. “In order for us to be relevant and to continue to do our work we are all going to have to do that.”

Students have been able to learn through Zoom and are now using live streaming as their first performances are showcased for this academic year. The use of technology has allowed for a smooth transition into teaching as well as performing. Establishing new methods have provided students with efficient and effective ideas and alternative marketable platforms. Although, both students and faculty have found these practices different from the norm, they have provided a new way to learn and an opportunity to perform.

An important factor in determining what a given performance season will look like is the relevance of selected plays. This particular play was chosen as it contains monologues covering racial injustices. This allows for students to perform individually while being timely in a sense of what is occurring in the world around us.

Professor Wells led the production and directed the live streamed performances. After the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, we witnessed a summer filled with outcries from the affected communities. Wells saw it as an opportunity to lend their voices to the cause.

“I thoroughly enjoyed the performances showcased from the Essential Theatre,” said Taliah Qaiyim, a second year doctor of pharmacy candidate. “I have always had an appreciation for the arts and like the idea of the streamed performances for convenience during this time.”

“The New Black Fest’s Hands Up: 7 Playwrights, 7 Testaments”  is the first production among other performances that will be showcased from the Essential Theatre this academic year.