As the campus headed toward indefinite closure last month and state health officials ordering residents to stay home, two Orange Coast College performing arts departments — Music and Theatre Arts — were scrambling to change course schedules and cancel upcoming performances and recitals.
Theatre Arts department chair Tom Bruno recalled a particularly frantic moment when the March 15 performance of the department’s faculty-directed production of “Wilderness” was nearly stopped by Campus Safety officers when the announcement that campus was closing went out just hours before the show was to begin.
“I called Campus Safety and I asked, ‘There’s a show going on in the theater. Can we keep it up?’ And he said, ‘How many people are going to be there?’ And I said, ‘There’s definitely going to be less than 50 people there.’ And he said, ‘OK, that’s fine. It can go.’ And that’s the last thing that was able to happen on campus,” Bruno said.
The OCC Repertory Theatre Company had to cancel its festival of short plays, “Take Five,” which was in the middle of rehearsals when OCC suspended instruction the week before spring break, and which was slated to open the weekend after spring break.
Rick Golson, theatre arts instructor and faculty adviser for The Rep, said he and the other theatre faculty members are in talks about what shows to include or move to the fall semester, assuming campus re-opens by then. No decisions have been made about the campus reopening.
The Rep also had to cancel its annual “One-Act Play Festival,” which Golson said students had started writing and planning for since last fall.
“I really enjoy working on the shows and seeing people put in all their hard work and seeing them come to fruition. But I know we’re going to come back together and it’s going to be better than ever,” Golson said.
Bruno said he also had to cancel his upcoming musical “Working,” which was fully cast and had held its first meeting the week before classes were suspended.
“I’m considering maybe we can do that show as part of our season next year, and the students that have already been cast, if they want to be in the show, they wouldn’t have to audition again,” Bruno said.
He said he hopes that bringing “Working” back next year will be appropriate because hopefully Americans will be back to their regular jobs by then.
“The show celebrates the American worker, and it might be very inspirational to help our nation and our community to get back on its feet,” Bruno said.
Seth Corter, a 20-year-old theatre arts major, said he was disappointed when his rehearsals for “Take Five” and “Working” were cut short.
“Theater gave me a lot of order in my life. It just kept me going and made me feel good. And now with this jarring transition, I don’t really have that order anymore. The online classes are kind of helping, but it’s not the same,” Corter said.
Corter added that his acting class with Bruno will be continuing its assignments through the use of recorded monologue performances, but he misses having the audience feedback.
Music department chair Eliza Rubenstein said in an e-mail that none of the department’s classes have had to be suspended or cancelled. The shift does not come without its challenges, though.
“We're accustomed to making music by responding to others around us — following a conductor, or moving in sync with another performer, or breathing together — and that's not possible online,” Rubenstein said in an email.
She added that the hard work of faculty members to move their instruction to online formats, such as through Zoom, is keeping those classes running despite the cancellation of all in-person rehearsals and performances for the semester.
“Artists are good at adapting to change and stress with compassion and creativity, and thus far that's one of the most consistently inspiring things I've witnessed in our students and faculty alike,” Rubenstein said.
Maxim Kuzin, music director of the OCC symphony orchestra, said it was tough to decide what to do about the rehearsals for the orchestra’s planned spring concert, which would have been a performance of works by Ludwig van Beethoven in celebration of his 250th birthday.
“It’s very difficult to have the people come back after this extended period of not being able to attend class. Half, or even more than half, of our players are community members who are not necessarily students of OCC, although some support the program as one-semester students or by donations,” Kuzin said.
His plan for his orchestra is to rehearse the music with weekly assignments, learning it section-by-section until the end of the spring semester, and then rehearse and perform live together in the fall.
“I believe it would be a wonderful motivation for the students and community members to learn the music that they will actually perform,” he said.
Rubenstein, who also directs the OCC Chorale, said she now uses time with her students to listen to and discuss great musical works, study and compare different performances, or just talk about their current lives “in this weird new reality, because one of the most important elements of ensemble participation is the community.”
Both departments expect the cancellation of spring performances to save some money.
Golson said that the funds that would have been spent on “Working” can go toward getting supplies and equipment that the theatre department needs.
In the Music department, however, Rubenstein predicts that they may lose a lot of funding because of the lack of ticket sales.
Still, many of the faculty of the performing arts departments are optimistic about what they can accomplish this semester through remote learning.
“I know that some other academic institutions have cancelled their ensembles. We should strive to make every attempt to keep the classes running in some way, because it’s a good activity to keep students and community members entertained and studying their passion while they are experiencing these frustrating times,” Kuzin said.