Starting college during a global pandemic might be overwhelming to some, but Drama student Venus Fischer has taken every twist and turn in stride. “I’m constantly blown away by how lucky I am to be here,” says the first-year School of Drama undergraduate student. “It’s so much better in every way than what I was expecting this year to be like.”
Fischer, who came to UNCSA from Brookville, Ohio, began her UNCSA experience a little differently from most: She was selected to appear in HBO Max’s “Homeschool Musical: Class of 2020,” and spent her ﬁrst weeks at school filming herself for the show.
The documentary follows seven students from across the country as they share their experiences and responses to the challenges of 2020. The project’s creator was none other than Broadway veteran Laura Benanti, whose viral #SunshineSongs initiative on social media was the inspiration for the project.
Before filming began, the production team met with Fischer virtually for several weeks. With the help of students and faculty from the schools of Design & Production and Filmmaking, footage was filmed in two parts: a Zoom interview with Benanti, from Fischer’s dorm room; and a musical performance, from Agnes de Mille Theatre. “It showed me what our school can really do,” she says.
Since the documentary’s December 2020 release, the busy student has connected with viewers on social media. “I’ve had a lot of people reach out to me, especially a lot of trans students, which I’m so thankful for,” says Fischer, who is transgender. “It’s cool to see your work impacting other people.”
Fischer, who shares some of her personal journey as a trans woman in the documentary, has felt comfortable in her own skin inside the classroom at UNCSA as well. She points to a dance class with Drama faculty member Krisha Marcano as a highlight of her year.
Students were given an assignment called the Heritage Project to tell the story of their heritage through dance. “I worked with two friends, and we put together a 10-minute celebration of ballroom culture,” she explains. “It’s a staple in the trans experience and in the Black queer experience, so it was wonderful to share with people who didn’t know anything about it.... It was exciting to see Krisha dance and celebrate with us.”
The class, along with many others, was delivered through a hybrid instructional model due to COVID-19 — with some students in person in a studio and others attending from their dorm rooms. Classes have been inventive instead of limiting, says Fischer. “It’s amazing how much we’ve been able to do. We engaged in more on-camera training than ever before.” This included greater access to guest artists like acclaimed on-camera acting coach Bob Krakower and seasoned motion-capture ﬁght director Michelle Ladd.
Fischer is eager to take the new techniques she has acquired and apply them during her second year in the program. “Second year is a lot about implementing the things you’ve learned into the real process,” she says, adding that she and her classmates will have the opportunity to begin working with the directing faculty in the fall.
As she reﬂected on the end of her ﬁrst year at UNCSA, one word came to mind: appreciation. “The perseverance of the students, faculty and staff has been such a gift,” she concludes. “I’ve grown in every way imaginable. I feel like the pandemic has offered us this weird release to reconnect with what is really important to us. I’m so much more grateful, and I realize what I’ve taken for granted.”
This article appeared in the 2021 issue of Scene.
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July 20, 2021