They perform for the applause: Theater students excited to resume in-person learning


Illustration by: Cornell Chuaseco

Theater students prepare for their in-person plays this semester.

Imagine boarding an airline flight and then learning that the pilot received all his training through a computer screen.

For many students at Cal State LA, remote instruction didn’t completely alter their learning experience. But for students in the Theater and Dance Department, their world was completely turned upside down. Now, they celebrate the return to in-person learning and getting the hands-on experience that doesn’t translate through a screen.

Jolana Villarreal, a theater design and production student, feels a lot more comfortable learning essential theater skills in-person.

“It feels so good to be back in-person again,” Villarreal said. “As a theater major, I believe it’s important to have the skill building classes in-person, such as lighting, set building and stage management. These are skills we can’t really practice through a screen, so it’s great to learn these in the theater.” 

Villarreal didn’t completely dislike her Zoom classes either though.

“Despite not being in the same room together to perform, the [acting] class made online acting work,” she said.

The return to campus, however, has sparked some creative problem solving, according to Frank Ramirez, a second-year student who is working toward his master of fine arts (MFA) degree in television, film and theater.

Ramirez commented on how creative his peers and department have had to get to ensure the safety of students. When the university resumed in-person instruction, Ramirez hoped that the school would have factored in the time constraints of having some classes on campus, especially for the commuters who have both in-person and remote classes the same day.

“My peers and my department have had to get creative in finding space for students to take Zoom classes on campus,” he said.

However, with virtual learning, students didn’t have to wear masks during instruction, a key element that Ramirez considers bittersweet. 

“We are in the arts, the visual and performing arts,” he said. “We celebrate being together, but mourn not being able to see each other.  It feels counterintuitive, just as having class half in-person and half virtually does. While the health of students and faculty ought to take precedence in these wild times, patience can become worn thin.”

The pandemic has not been all compromises and creative problem solving. For some, it has served as an opportunity to perfect their craft.

“I was working as a stand-in for a TV series in Portland, and when the pandemic first began, everything got put on hold until further notice,” said Irma Gill, a second-year student working toward an MFA in television, film and theater. “For me, the biggest challenge was figuring out how to stay active in my field despite circumstances such as these.”

For Gill, this meant returning to school to pursue her master’s degree not just to stay active, but to even perhaps teach in the future.

“I chose Cal State LA for a few different reasons, but mainly because it was the only program that I felt was not focused solely on theater acting but on television and film as well,” Gill said. “As an actress, I can learn a lot on Zoom, but acting live and in-person is a much more beneficial learning experience.”

Learning again in-person isn’t the only thing Gill is excited about.

“I have missed the feeling of having an audience present during a performance and being able to hear laughter, applause and reactions to what they are watching,” she said. “Having that energy there adds so much more excitement to the work I do.” 

The Cal State LA Theater Department has two plays this semester open to the public.

Kicking off the season is a play called “Soledad,” written by Carolyn Dunn, a production that Villarreal is excited to be part of as the assistant stage manager. “Soledad” opens on March 18. Tickets are free, but reservations are required.

Later in the semester, the department will perform Los Faustinos,” with music by Bernardo Solano and original music and lyrics by Roberto Alcaraz.

To stay up to date with the theater department’s events, visit the department page to find information on past and future shows.