The University Players Return To a Screen Near You

 By Nancy Sanchez-Diaz

Entertainment Editor

After a year-long hiatus due to COVID-19, The University Players are back and better than ever. Only this time, they perform on streaming video.

The Players’ performance of the play “Check Please” —  a story about the horrors and delights of online dating — took place on Zoom from April 22-25.

The play, which offered a diverse mix of personalities, encompasses the good of online dating, the bad, and everything else in between, taking the audience along for the wild and bizarre blind dates happening live on webcam.  

In one scene, the audience meets Jackie, a female character with an obsession for internet language. Played by Sydney Ott, Jackie could ramble on for hours on end, not letting her blind date get a single word in. 

The sound, the drama and the excitement set the stage for what the rest of the play would come to highlight — the magic of theater, and its ability to transcend barriers. Or, in this case, a screen.   

To get a sense of what virtual production was like, The Equinox met Athanasios Vardouniotis, an acting professor and director of the play, on opening night.

“This play has a stage version. When the pandemic happened, the playwright wrote a stay-at-home edition, with new scenes specifically created for Zoom,” Vardouniotis told The Equinox. “When I saw ‘Check Please,’ I thought ‘It’s been a tough time for the world in the past year or so. We need some comedy, we need something that is funny, we need love.’”

Vardouniotis noted some of the challenges that The University Players faced with a virtual performance. 

“As director, I went into it knowing that it would be different and challenging. It’s still theater, just done in a different way,” Vardouniotis said. “The connection was always an issue. It wasn’t terrible, but it does happen. If you’re too loud on Zoom, Zoom will block your sound. Never in the history of theater is anyone too loud. But in this case, there were moments I had to tell the cast ‘you need to turn down your volume.’”

Even the auditioning process was different.

“Usually we do open auditions and we invite whoever wants to come over to meet with us,” Vardouniotis said. “For this show, I decided to reach out to people specifically, or people who have worked with us before, because it was going to be so different.” 

Framing was also a new concept to consider.

“Sometimes they would perform and we couldn’t see them. We had to adjust the way we presented things in order for it to translate well through a screen,” Vardouniotis continued. “Regardless of the issues, we were very determined to address them and work through them. Everything is possible, and I went into it knowing it can be a great show as long as there were solutions.” 

And it was. 

The scenes lasted no more than three minutes, each presenting us with new characters and a fresh story. There was a joke for everyone, and a personality for everyone. The comedic timing of the entire play was perfectly executed, so well that one could easily forget they were sitting in front of a computer screen the entire time.

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Art and photo taken by Nancy Sanchez-Diaz.