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The Show Must Go On: How CNM Theater Students are Holding Performances in the Age of COVID-19

Everything is online, but there’s a twist to keep things interesting
The Show Must Go On: How CNM Theater Students are Holding Performances in the Age of COVID-19
A screenshot from the group's online rehearsal.

Aug 12, 2020

Many of you will probably remember those old “choose your own adventure” books from years ago where the story frayed in several directions and you could decide which plot line to follow. More recently, a similar trend popped up in live theater and audiences were able to tell the cast where to go. 

That format is something CNM theatre students decided to experiment with for the summer Coal Avenue Theatre Lab, where current students, alumni, and friends put on a summer production. With everything online, however, the group devised a clever audio theater production that will be live on the internet and allow the audience to steer.

“This idea of variable theater is pretty new and the students this summer are definitely on the cutting edge of what’s possible,” says Leonard Madrid, the CNM theater instructor who oversees the CAT Lab.

The theater group is currently recording final scenes while simultaneously editing others. The play is a romantic comedy called “Failing in Love: a Gorgon’s Guide to Dating” and follows a woman who moves to Albuquerque for a lover who turns out to be a myth.

“We chose a romantic comedy because that kind of story really allowed us to focus on character development as we wrote the multiple threads,” says Anastasia McArthur, one of the four student leads. “We’re excited to present something that’s more engaging than just a normal story. It’s hard to get people to tune in when they can just watch Netflix, so we’re hoping people who might not normally watch theater really enjoy this production.”

Like any play, there have been plenty of rehearsals. Instead of standing around a stage, the cast all sit at their computers and get feedback from the director. When it came time to record, each person had to find a quiet place, whether that was a closet or the bathroom. A local theater company lent everyone mics to help with audio quality, and scenes are being recorded directly to the internet or over a Zoom call.

It’s been hard to rehearse at home, but there are some advantages to an all-online production. Leonard says rehearsal scheduling is easier because people aren’t running to various classes. The overall cost was lower, and the online format gave the students more room to experiment.

“You can’t go down a hill on someone’s handlebars in live theater, but you can when it’s online,” he says.

Once scenes and editing wrap, the play will go online, via YouTube, at the end of this month (the link and show information will be on CNM.edu/cat). There will also be a student-designed art piece to accompany each thread of the story. Everyone is anxious to launch.

“There’s a lot of CNM blood, sweat, and tears going into this production and I’m really excited for people to participate because it’s completely different and really exciting,” Leonard says.