THE SWEEPING IMPACT of COVID-19 feels like a plotline lifted from a newly unearthed Greek drama. But today’s headlines are all too real. The pandemic’s effects have rippled through every aspect of the theatre industry, from Broadway and regional theatres to high school and college training programs. But if history tells us anything, it’s that resilience and creativity always prevail.

Through the innovative use of technology, theatre is being redefined at a breakneck pace that may one day be called the pandemic renaissance. Dramatics looked at three perspectives that exemplify how possibility is transforming reality.

Gail Becker

Gail Becker


As of mid-October, Gail Becker found herself in the epicenter of Wisconsin’s COVID-19 spike. But that hasn’t stopped the musical theatre audition and college prep coach from finding ways to work with private students and lead Madison’s Capital City Theatre conservatory program as director of education. The technological capabilities required of those pursuing college theatre programs started emerging long before we all found ourselves on Zoom.

Becker says the university technology pivot began six or seven years ago, as more colleges began requiring prescreen audition submissions. What once demanded a digital camera and SIM card to transfer files can now be accomplished on a smartphone with an affordable ring light, attention to sound balance, and a few benchmarks for performing on-camera.

Small but important details can make a big difference, according to Becker. A tripod ensures steady filming and enables you to position the camera at a flattering angle, which is also better for posture and breath support. A neutral background allows the performance to shine — avoid show posters, family photos, and other visual distractions. Make sure the camera is set for horizontal (landscape) orientation — remember, you’re not making a TikTok video.

Now is the time to discover where the router is in your home. While Wi-Fi is convenient, the bandwidth isn’t as strong or consistent as plugging into the router with an ethernet cable. The connection also reduces lag time between sound and video, creating a more seamless final cut. A high dynamic microphone will more accurately capture the nuance and color of your voice, but even without this investment, experimenting with the placement of audio via a Bluetooth speaker or laptop can make all the difference.

Becker recently hosted a Zoom session with guest adjudicators Kaitlin Hopkins from Texas State University and Kevin Covert from Shenandoah University. Their insights tapped into the delicate balance stage actors face when translating their work to digital formats, particularly during a time when many final auditions will likely be held virtually.

Becker says one of the most interesting takeaways was regarding up-tempo songs. “As seen through a video feed, it often feels to the viewer that the music is getting away from the performer, like a wobbly train. It happens because the acting is competing with the music when you see it two-dimensionally,” Becker observed. “Pull back and choose your beats to be more focused. Less is more.”

It can be challenging to see the forest through the trees during these unprecedented times, but Becker believes technology is no substitute for the real deal. “Getting the economy back to the arts is essential,” Becker said. “Many have invested their hearts and souls in theatre — it’s not the hobby others think we do on the weekends.”

Telly Leung
Photo of actor Telly Leung by Ted Ely.


When Broadway actor Telly Leung graduated from Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Drama in 2002, he couldn’t have imagined how the coronavirus would redefine the theatrical landscape. Even then, he knew he’d need to become what theatre artist Michael Kushner defines as a “multihyphenate — an artist who has multiple proficiencies that cross-pollinate to help flourish professional capabilities.” As an Asian American actor, Leung has long been breaking glass ceilings.

Leung made his Broadway debut in the revival of Flower Drum Song and most recently rode the magic carpet in the title role of Aladdin. Prior to the pandemic, his theatre career was flourishing, along with TV and film appearances. That all changed in March, and Leung quickly realized it was either sink or swim. In lockdown with his husband, a laptop, and a USB microphone, Leung turned their living room into a home studio while his husband spent the workday in the bedroom. He’s invested in “a soundboard and sound reflectors, better microphones, upgraded internet bandwidth, and more tripods than I can count” to create a makeshift studio in their 500-square-foot Manhattan apartment.

Technology is only useful if you know how to use it. Leung says theatre artists are banding together to help one another. Without any formal resource hub, former classmates and castmates barter skills to lift one another during this time. “I’m saying ‘yes’ to a lot more. I’ve never been busier or worked harder,” Leung admitted.

Leung’s classical training at Carnegie Mellon ― meant for the stage and “hitting the back row” ― is foundational but requires adjustments for the camera. “All the stuff you learn ― text study, objectives, and tactics ― is just playing for a different medium. Storytelling is storytelling. The lens captures everything,” Leung said. “But acting is acting. It’s been the same since the beginning of time. Good singing is good singing. You still need vocal technique.”

Leung encourages young theatre artists to experiment with quickly advancing technology. Using Zoom as an example, Leung has seen significant upgrades with each software update, particularly in audio settings. Users can now control input and output levels, suppress background noise, record separate audio files for each participant, and optimize for third-party video editing.

Leung has positioned himself to create his own work and to be at-the-ready for outside endeavors by embracing an entrepreneurial spirit and diving into learning software programs for video editing and digital audio manipulation. He also does private coaching and podcast appearances, and he co-arranged and recorded an Aretha Franklin-inspired version of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” for R&H Goes Pop! – At Home.

“I have high hopes for young people,” Leung said. “It’s a scary and ambiguous time, but that also leaves the door open for what life can be. At the end of the day, we tell stories. It’s our calling: to share a story, to promote empathy, to step outside yourself, and to inspire others to do the same.”


The internet didn’t exist when Ellen Stewart founded La Mama Experimental Theatre Club in 1961. Still, her vision for “uncensored creative freedom” has propelled the institution to support more than 5,000 productions from 70 nations throughout its nearly five-decade history.

Current Artistic Director Mia Yoo says digital work has created more “impact, access, and experimentation” for the Tony Award-winning, New York City-based regional theatre. She says the theatre community was hesitant to embrace online tools long before the onset of COVID-19. Yoo believes the quick pivot offers an opportunity to focus on new forms rather than be a stop-gap measure, saying, “This is the way we’ll have to start looking at art-making for the next generation of artists and audiences.”

La Mama co-founded CultureHub in 2009 with the Seoul Institute of the Arts to “explore how digital technologies could foster a more sustainable model for international exchange and creativity.” Already an artistic success with brick and mortar U.S. locations in New York City and Los Angeles ― as well as outposts in Spoleto, Italy, and Bandung, Indonesia ― CultureHub recently launched public access to LiveLab, a free, open-source video collaboration performance software created by artists.

Development began in 2015 but LiveLab went public this summer, enabling artists worldwide to create, collaborate, and produce multilocation performances. “Artists built LiveLab for art-making,” Yoo explained, “enabling users to customize media in ways that Zoom or Skype cannot.” Multicamera and audio streams from a single device, audio mixing and processing, and WebRTC (real-time communication) for advanced video capture are a few features that enable artists to push creative boundaries. An online user guide and video tutorials offer resources for new users. The technology is being used by resident artists for the company’s 59th season, “Breaking It Open.”

Though the process looks different, Yoo acknowledges there will always be a sense of “jumping off the cliff” when creating new work. No pandemic can squelch that exhilarating sense of the unknown.

“It starts with the artist,” Yoo said. “You must have the necessity to share or say something. When you find that kind of passion and give people the platform to try something they’ve never tried and take a risk — to give them the freedom to potentially fail — that’s when groundbreaking work happens.”

John Gutierrez in Downtown Variety Take 3.
John Gutierrez in Downtown Variety Take 3. Photo courtesy of La Mama.
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