Last Saturday, the Cornell’s performing and media arts department’s student-led theater tradition, Festival 24, returned virtually this semester. Each year, students create, direct and perform original works, all within 24 hours. This semester, the event was pre-recorded within the 24 hours and premiered on the Cornell PMA Youtube channel Saturday night. The event featured five student-written short plays and the performance of two original songs. This favorite event was always well attended in the pre-COVID times, and this year was no exception. Despite being online, the video of the play, which can still be viewed on Youtube, now has over 400 views.
Festival 24 is structured around a theme and an accompanying twist, revealed exactly 24 hours before showtime, which the writers and directors must incorporate into their creations. The theme for this Festival 24 was “night,” with a twist to include something related to “knights” — a funny combination which spawned many creative and hilarious ideas.
In an interview with The Sun, actors Bianca Santos-Declet ʼ23 and Ben Lederman ʼ23 described the challenges that come with performing on Zoom, as well as how the writers, directors and actors worked to utilize the unique virtual setting to their advantage. Lederman was appreciative about the virtual Festival 24 “having the opportunity to be available to a wider audience,” yet says, “the sacrifice for us is that we as actors don’t have the audience there for feedback.” “We can’t feed off their energy” Lederman says, which makes it more challenging when performing the comedic plays.
Despite this, the writers and directors strove to take advantage of what Zoom had to offer. According to Santos-Declet, “tried to incorporate Zoom into the storyline,” such as the play she acted in, titled “GoodKnight,” in which the main characters had a conversation over video chat. “We tried to incorporate movement as much as possible,” says Lederman, describing the ways in which the students worked to make the performance more varied and engaging. Using the features of Zoom such as virtual backgrounds and breakout rooms, they were able to adapt Festival 24 to a virtual setting.
While many aspects of theater are lost when performing in a virtual setting, one aspect gained from the virtual setting is viewer engagement through the live chat section on Youtube. Throughout the play, students vocalized their support, laughter and excitement through their comments, creating a running dialogue reacting to the plays. This added a level of community and shared participation which is usually absent when everyone must watch separately. Having this method of interaction with the audience of people in Ithaca and beyond, helped make Festival 24 engaging and entertaining despite being virtual.
“These past few months have been difficult especially for students of the arts, but we believe that tonight we can come together, no matter the distance between us, to create something beautiful,” said producer Arin Sheehan ʼ22 while introducing the play. This online version of Festival 24 gave students the chance to participate in theater while on-campus or off, keeping the arts alive despite the pandemic.
Emma Leynse is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].