COVID-19 Causing Issues for SUNY Oneonta’s Theatre Department

Daniella Fishman, Staffwriter |

As the impact of COVID-19 continues to influence every community, SUNY Oneonta’s Theatre Department is still reeling from the mass cancellations of their plays. With performances such as “Once Upon a Mattress” and “I and You” originally set to open after spring break, directors and cast members are heartbroken due to the early conclusion of their shows.

Andrew Kahl, Chair of the Theatre Department, describes the mass cancelations as “absolutely devastating,” saying that he has never seen so many shows canceled at once in the theater world. News of SUNY Oneonta’s play cancelations broke on March 18 and left many students shocked. Kahl cites theatre as an “escape” from reality, and with it being “pulled away,” students and play-lovers alike are at a loss.

Kahl praised the theatre department for its seemingly easy transition into distance learning. With many teachers instructing through Zoom and other video modules, Kahl believes that this new way of teaching will undoubtedly transition into next semester’s physical instruction. With professors being forced into new modes of learning; they will retain these new skills for beneficial education. Kahl also credits the school for their supportive and conscious decisions in regard to the Theatre Department. He reminds students to remember that this will pass, to be patient and further take care of one another.

 Professor Kiara Pipino was set to direct the upcoming play “Once Upon a Mattress” before the March 18 cancellation. The only time Pipino has seen this many cancellations was when Broadway closed after the events of 9/11. “Once Upon a Mattress” is technically suspended until next semester, however, there will need to be recasting as some of the show’s members are set to graduate this August. With the bulk of production work already done, the financial resources that will be available to them this semester might not be an option come the following semester.

Though the cancellations are upsetting, Pipino insists that they are important and that “safety is quintessential. There is no way to fully practice social distancing when it comes to theater, the casts cannot be 6ft apart, as they are always moving, talking and sweating in close proximity.” There was no other solution but to cancel the upcoming plays.

To preserve a sense of normalcy within her students’ lives, Pipino posts videos to the Mask and Hammer Facebook page every Sunday, keeping one of her much-beloved traditions alive, cooking for her students. While Pipino is not able to share her food with students, her videos teach them how to cook the food for themselves so they could enjoy along with her. Pipino believes that normalcy is important in these moments of uncertainty; she wants her students to remember to enjoy time to themselves saying, “Read a noneducational book, exercise, eat cake!”

Stephen Wilson, president of the Mask and Hammer Club, sat down with the State Times to share his opinion. He describes his fellow club members’ reactions to the cancelation as “heartbroken.” The student-directed play “I and You” was set to open March 26 and run until March 29. Unfortunately, some of the cast members were seniors and will not be able to perform the play after putting in many weeks of rehearsal and production.

After 13 years in the theater world, Wilson has never experienced anything like this and calls the experience “gutting.” Wilson hopes that “I and You” will have another chance to open this Fall. Wilson is happy with how the theatre department is handling the situation, and their communication with the student body has been “great.” To keep their camaraderie alive, Wilson told the State Times that the Mask and Hammer Club has hosted virtual meetings and game nights to keep their spirits high.

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