In typical “the show must go on” spirit, FGCU’s Bower School of Music & the Arts has been innovating ways for students to continue learning, rehearsing and performing this fall while ensuring personal safety during the COVID-19 pandemic.
With live public performances temporarily halted, the school is orchestrating efforts to share cultural programming online. Recitals, chamber concerts and theatrical productions are being recorded for video streaming — with a potential silver lining: Viewers can watch anytime from anywhere, presenting an opportunity to expand awareness and audience support for the Bower School.
The theatre department’s first completely online production premieres at 7 p.m. Oct. 29 on YouTube and will remain online. “River Sonnets” ties together Elizabethan love poems with an invented narrative thread about a woman trying to understand strange dreams in which various characters recite poetry. Written and directed by Professor Barry Cavin, the 50-minute video features scenes filmed on and off campus with a dozen student actors working individually or in small groups.
The music department, meanwhile, is taking a similar approach to presenting vocal and instrumental concerts, taping small-scale performances in U. Tube Recital Hall for online audiences. FGCU360.com will publish an additional post when they become available for viewing.
For their part, The FGCU Art Galleries have reframed some exhibitions planned for the 2020-21 school year and postponed others while limiting gallery visitors to students, faculty and staff. (See previous story.)
“Our No. 1 priority is maintaining everyone’s health and safety throughout the year,” said Dr. Krzysztof Biernacki, director of the Bower School. “We are not planning any events that would be open to the public. Our approach is to present a selection of recorded concerts, art exhibits and theater plays taking place mainly online. Our partnership with WGCU Public Media will allow us to stream Bower School events on WGCU platforms and reach a much broader outside audience. Our virtual offerings will continue to increase as the year goes on.”
TheatreLab’s first fall student production was going to be “Savage/Love” by Sam Shepard, but when COVID-19 halted live performances and streaming rights for the play were not possible, Cavin pivoted. Using public-domain poetry, he pieced together “River Sonnets.” The impromptu project began as a way for student actors to learn to speak Elizabethan-era verse, he explained.
“We built characters to go along with the poems — they are all different individuals,” he said. “They would work up some ideas, and I would give them notes as a way of directing them. Then we got together in various locations in small groups to film the scenes.”
Viewers may spot familiar backgrounds in the video, such as campus natural trails, Koreshan State Park and FGCU’s Buckingham Complex.
For Cavin, it wasn’t the first time COVID had thrown a plot twist at a production. The artistic director of Ghostbird Theatre Company in Fort Myers, a troupe founded by FGCU alumni, Cavin had to purchase and learn to use current camera technology to film one of the company’s shows earlier in the pandemic period.
“It was a steep learning curve,” he said. “I have a background in television production, but the technology is so different now.”
“River Sonnets” was a new experience, too, for sophomore Sofia Solomon, a software engineering major who auditioned virtually and was cast as the patient troubled by her dreams. Aside from reading scenes in classes, it was her first real acting experience — on camera or on stage.
“I really enjoyed it a lot,” she said. “I like analyzing scripts and being able to experience different perspectives through characters. It lets you get out of your own self, and you can be a different person through a form of art. I’m excited to see how it all came out.”
- Watch “River Sonnets”