Theatre Department presents first in-person play since COVID-19

Katie Fogarty, Staff Writer

Florida Gulf Coast University’s theatre department showcased its first in-person play since the pandemic this month.

Dr. Dan Bacalzo directed “The Misanthrope,” and selected it specifically to be performed with COVID-19 in mind.

“For me, I was very aware that this particular play, “The Misanthrope,”is mostly a verbal comedy,” Bacalzo said. “ [“The Misanthrope”] struck me as being more about ideas, and intellect, and exchanges of certain ways of seeing the world, as opposed to a physical comedy.”

Bacalzo said that since the play is being done as a production through the university, masks could not be mandated for the actors.

Bacalzo was able to get around this by working with the costume designer to integrate masks as part of the costume design, as an added measure of protection against the spread of COVID-19.

“It is an interesting thing, but we’re in the medium of theatre,” Bacalzo said. “Theatre is all about the liveness… I direct for live audiences, and I always have that in mind.”

Theatre has a long history of masked works, Bacalzo said. Masks have been an important element in theatre, going back to the ancient Greeks. This emphasizes voice work and movement work on stage, as the actors’ facial expressions are limited.

“It’s an ancient Greek play,” Bacalzo said. “Having the actors in masks was kind of fitting, even though they weren’t the same kinds of masks that the Greeks used.”

For each production of “The Misanthrope,” only 20 seats are on pre-sale to maintain social distancing. Other seats will be made available if audience members buy tickets at the door, pending on the number of persons so social distancing can still be maintained.

“We still want to follow, as much as possible, best practices [for COVID-19],” Bacalzo said.

After the first few shows, the number of seats in the theatre will be reevaluated. The theatre department will decide if they need to add more seats, take away some seats and how to space them out, Bacalzo said.

The last play Bacalzo directed at FGCU was “Oedipus The King”. This play was announced before COVID-19 restrictions were placed nation-wide in March of 2020.

While restrictions from the pandemic were not in sight when “Oedipus The King” was selected, rehearsals were initially held on Zoom. Some rehearsals close to the opening of the show were held in-person, but actors wore masks during rehearsals and the performance.

Michael Cherbini, an actor for FGCU’s theatre department, said there wasn’t an audience for “Oedipus The King” to take precautions against COVID-19. To make up for the lack of audience, an alumni from FGCU’s theatre program came and filmed the performance.

“Oedipus The King” was put on YouTube and broadcast on WGCU, said Bacalzo.

“Oedipus The King” was the only play performed last year that was announced prior to the onset of the pandemic, Bacalzo said. The other two shows that were announced weren’t workable with COVID-19 restrictions.

Bacalzo said that one of the shows that wouldn’t have worked involved the ingestion of food with the audience, and the other show was a physically strenuous production that would have required a lot of activity, including heavy breathing.

This year, all of the theatre productions at FGCU were selected with COVID-19 in mind.

“[Having an audience now] is really great, and we staged everything having an audience in mind,” Cherbini said. “That’s something that’s really special.”