Oftentimes in show business, regardless of the circumstances, performers stand by the rule that the “show must go on.” The COVID-19 pandemic, however, threw a wrench in the mantra, and in the University of Georgia’s Department of Theatre and Film Studies’ spring show season.
UGA’s production of Margaret Atwood’s “The Penelopiad,” a spin on Homer’s “Odyssey,” was set to run from March 17 to 22 at the Cellar Theatre. However, four days prior to opening night, the department announced it would cancel all shows out of concern for the health and safety of the audience, cast and crew.
The production was important to director Eliana Marianes for a number of different reasons, though primarily because it was her first time professionally directing a show. From a Greek origin herself, Marianes said she was particularly excited to reinvent the traditional Greek epic poem.
While mourning the loss of their show, Marianes and her cast leaned on each other to try and move past their disappointment. When the news first broke of the cancellation, Marianes said her cast was adamant about finding a way to still put on the show.
“The cast was so fired up about the show,” Marianes said. “I felt that my job almost became to quell a revolution in the sense that I kept saying “‘I want to see this show hit the stage, but we need to be patient and just see what happens.’”
Second year acting MFA student Robyn Accetta played the role of Odysseus in “The Penelopiad.” After catching wind of the show’s cancellation, Accetta said she was very emotional, even though she had expected this outcome throughout the days leading up to opening night.
“[This show] was quite a bonding experience between the cast members, and it’s probably the most collaborative show that I’ve ever done,” Accetta said. “And I’m just sad that people never got a chance to see the work that we created.”
Even though Accetta described the cancellation as “heartbreaking,” she said that this situation can serve as a reminder to performers that theater is an ephemeral experience and that they should enjoy everything about the production process with the short time that they are given.
Similarly, Marianes also spoke on the idea of the fleeting experience of theater and the importance of non-attachment between performers and their shows.
“As performers, we think ‘we’re great at non-attachment, no problem. We know how to let go.’” Marianes said. “But learning to let go of something that never happened, that’s a whole new ballgame.”
The cast of “The Penelopiad” was not alone in its disappointment to cancel the season.
The theater department’s production of James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim’s Tony Award-winning musical “Into the Woods” was set to hit the stage from April 9-11 and 15-19 at the Fine Arts Theatre. However, due to the growing health and safety concerns of COVID-19, the show was also canceled.
Senior theater major Emma Ruth Matthews played the role of Cinderella in “Into the Woods.” With this show being the last of her college career, Matthews said she felt sad and shocked that her time with the theater department was cut short.
“It just feels so unfinished,” Matthews said. “Once I figure out my plans for next year and start working with other theaters I’m sure I will get that feeling [of closure], but right now I just feel like there's a giant piece missing from my life.”
After hearing of the show's cancellation, Matthews reached out to a few of her castmates and asked each of them to record themselves singing their part in the show’s song “No One is Alone.” Matthews then compiled all the recordings together into one video to share as a tribute to the show and to provide viewers with “a shred of comfort in these confusing times.”