Drama Class of 2020 releases virtual showcase

This spring, seniors in the School of Drama found their career-launching showcase tour cut short by coronavirus-related travel restrictions and social distancing measures, but they found a different way to reach casting directors and agents by releasing a virtual showcase this week. In the process, they practiced skills that will serve them well as professional actors, according to Drama Dean Scott Zigler.

The 23 actors were in the midst of a tour to four cities – Chicago, Atlanta, New York and Los Angeles – where they would perform scenes and songs for theater, film and television casting directors and talent agency representatives, when the novel coronavirus was declared a pandemic.

“We had our showcase in Chicago early in the week of March 9, and headed to Atlanta at the end of that week,” Zigler said. “We had full weeks planned in both New York and L.A. in early April. By the time we got to Atlanta, it became apparent that we would have to cancel the remaining showcases.”

Disappointed but determined to support the seniors in launching their careers, Zigler and his faculty came up with a plan to have each student record high-quality videos of their showcase pieces. The videos launched this week on UNCSA’s website, and are being sent to industry representatives. Casting directors, agents and managers who are interested in viewing the complete showcase can request access at uncsanews@uncsa.edu.

Though not as ideal as an in-person showcase, the virtual showcase helps students hone a skill that will be important throughout their careers when expected to provide self-produced video auditions, known in the business as “self-tapes.” Since arriving as dean in 2017, Zigler has already developed a curriculum that prepares actors for work on multiple platforms – film, television and new media in addition to the stage. Cancellation of the New York and L.A. trips and UNCSA’s transition to online instruction gave the seniors an additional opportunity to polish on-camera skills.

Students also got hours of extra coaching from Bob Krakower, one of the nation’s top acting teachers, who visits UNCSA frequently to work with students in the School of Drama. Krakower, whose clients include Emmy, Tony and Golden Globe nominees, specializes in on-camera training for actors. Zigler and Krakower have taught together on and off for 30 years, and Zigler sits in on most of Krakower’s classes with the UNCSA students.

The actors used Zoom to review their self-tapes with Krakower, reshooting them two and sometimes three or four times. “Bob devoted a huge amount of his own time to reviewing their work and providing feedback,” Zigler said.

“Self-taping is a process they will need to use as professional actors,” Zigler said. “You won’t always be able to audition in person, so you have to know how to do this and do it well.”

The seniors began preparing for the showcases at the end of their junior year, working over the summer to select 20 to 30 scenes they might perform. Throughout the senior year they work with the showcase committee -- which includes Zigler, as well as Drama faculty members Quin Gordon and Krisha Marcano -- to select and perfect the material that best introduces them to the industry and highlights their talents.

Feedback from the Chicago and Atlanta in-person showcases was very positive, Zigler said. Several students got meetings with industry professionals. Agents and casting directors have asked for the showcase tapes to follow up on contacts they made during the events.

“It’s a difficult time for the seniors,” Zigler said. “I tell them they won’t serve themselves by dwelling on what they are missing. They have to adjust to the reality of where the industry is right now, and how it will change in the future. We are all in the same boat. No one knows when the industry will be back up and running, but we know it will be at some point. When production starts up again, there may be a lot of available work right away.

“They have to learn to be nimble about creating work online, collaborating online. They are resilient and determined,” he added. “And we will continue to support them however we can.”

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April 16, 2020