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Student Blog: Believe in Tomorrow


The text of the show is often heartfelt descriptions of significant moments in time, and that evening we couldn’t help but feel emotional about our moment.

The opportunity to perform was once so rare that any combination of safety measures was overly justified. It was never an unnecessary inconvenience to wear a mask or stand six feet apart if that meant that people could see theatre again. Now that things are starting to slowly change and people are more protected from the virus, precautions are evolving and theatre is revealing some normalcy. Professional theatres have demonstrated the procedures necessary for live, unmasked productions, but it seemed to be a reality so far away. Thankfully, I was wrong about that.
I had convinced myself that it was easy to perform in a mask because I was so eager to be on stage and grateful that masks kept us safe. I said it made me engage my body more and improved my physicality. I said I can express with my eyes, brows, and forehead to make up for the lost expression. I said it's so worth it! While those all are true, I wasn't considering the hindrance it posed. Let me be clear, masks are still crucial to protecting against the virus. However, with the right pieces falling into place and with great respect for public safety, unmasked performances have started to return.

Student Blog: Believe in Tomorrow
Laura McKenna sings Surabaya-Santa
for the first time on stage without a mask.
Finally, there was nothing keeping us
from her hilarious expression and rich voice.
(PC: Rachel Nickols)

For our production of Songs for a New World, my peers and I rehearsed with masks on at all times in the space. We spent hours each night navigating a vocal marathon of song cycle, all while constricting our mouths. We'd nod in agreement leaving each night, saying that our voices were a little fatigued, but it wasn't too bad. In reality, our extended time in masks started to have its impact. One of our Woman 2 performers, Laura McKenna, knows this battle quite well. As a Musical Theatre and Vocal Performance double major, Laura spends a good portion of her day singing in a mask. She notes that, "not only can it be stifling at times, but breathing fully, and opening your mouth to the full extent is almost impossible." Laura mentioned the physical consequences of singing in the mask. She, and many others in the cast, have mentioned jaw pain and tension from trying to sing with insufficient mouth positions. I know I am guilty of a cheek numbing smile while trying to keep my mask on. Quick inhalation, deep breathing, and articulation gets lost in the rippling fabric. Singing becomes a juggling act between staying focused, staying on pitch, and keeping your mask over your nose. Our luck changed when the entire cast was vaccinated, and testing negative.

Student Blog: Believe in Tomorrow
One of our final rehearsals before we were allowed to
remove our masks. We started using mics, which
made singing through the show a bit easier.
(PC: Lauren Thomas)

After the last cast member got tested and came back negative, we rehearsed without wearing masks for the first time in almost two years. Four tables were laid out at each entrance to the stage with our names in alphabetical order. It is our responsibility to place extra masks at every exit we use, and we are only allowed to take our masks off right before we enter or during mic check. At our group mic check, we cut our eyes at each other, reaching for the loops of our mask. We giggled with nervous energy and couldn't contain our smiles as we saw each other unobstructed in the theatre. Though we tried our best, it was extremely difficult to get through that mic check without tears forming. The text of the show is often heartfelt descriptions of significant moments in time, and that evening we couldn't help but feel emotional about our moment.

Student Blog: Believe in Tomorrow
This was taken after we completed our group mic
check on preview night.
Don't let the smiles a??a??a??fool you-
there are tears in those eyes.

Performing without a mask was now a foreign experience. When I left the stage after my first unmasked mic check, I demanded someone tell me why I didn't know how easy singing without a mask was! Singing on that stage without any inhibiting factors was overwhelmingly freeing. Laura mentioned that, "everyone noticed they were over singing. You feel like you have to compensate for the lack of sound, and you really do not notice until the mask is gone." She said it took her, "several performances to adjust, and figure out how to sing this score, and pace [herself] without overworking [her] jaw and voice." We were all suddenly very aware of how uncomfortable singing a Jason Robert Brown show masked was. It is so much easier to achieve clarity and not strain or push our voices without a covering. It was a reminder, as Laura said, that what we do, "is never something to take for granted."

I applaud my peers for their dedication to wearing masks and keeping circles small during this process because we would not have reached this point otherwise. The public safety that masks provide made wearing them while performing unquestionable, but it was still so refreshing to take them off safely and communicate without any barriers. I believe Laura summarizes the experience perfectly by saying Songs for a New World is, "just the perfect show for the current times, because we all need a little reminder that 'we will be fine.' "

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From This Author Student Blogger: Madalyn Macko