Theatre never rests. And that is especially true at College Light Opera Company, a theatre company very dear to Artlab’s heart based in the Cape Cod town of Falmouth, Massachusetts.
College Light Opera Company, also known by its fitting acronym CLOC, is an educational summer stock company housed in the historic Highfield Theatre. Every summer, a select group of college students gather here for an eleven-week resident program to produce and perform a total of nine shows in what can only be described as the ultimate theatre boot camp.
A board of trustees runs CLOC with Mark A. Pearson as Executive and Artistic Director. The company itself has about 80 members. The actors, singers, orchestra players, and the stage and costume crews are composed of students from colleges, conservatories, and universities from across the country. The artistic staff, on the other hand, such as choreographers, music, and stage directors, consists of professionals in their field. The itinerary comprises a mix of musical performances varying from operas and operettas to classic and contemporary musicals.
While they are performing a show, the students are also rehearsing for next week’s piece and preparing auditions for the upcoming musicals in later weeks. It’s a rigorous schedule. I sympathize with the students as it reminds me of the summer I spent in Vermont at an immersive language program studying Russian. Where, as if by a stroke of destiny, I tried my hand at theater as a scenic painter. My very own College Light Opera.
In April, CLOC announced they were cancelling their 2020 season. But all was not lost. Staff members promptly started working on developing a virtual curriculum. The result was Digital CLOC, a series of online workshops, masterclasses, and virtual performances and productions. The new program also included the Off the CLOC and On the CLOC lecture series, which were available for the public.
One of these masterclasses, brought to CLOC by Artlab, was with none other than Adam Pascal. During his class, students performed and workshopped a song with Pascal. It was a special treat to see him in the light of mentor and teacher. Pascal also shared candid stories about his career and his journey in the world of theatre. He told us of his early days playing in “[bad] rock bands” before his friend, Idina Menzel, told him about open auditions for what back then was known as: “an off-Broadway show called Rent.” He touched on the peculiar experience of starting at the top in a hit show like Rent and later facing the abyss of what now?
Pascal also opened up about challenges he encountered after Rent and acknowledged what a tough business theatre is. “There is so much rejection. And we are naked out there,” he said. “But our job is to continue auditioning.” This reminder on persistence is something we can all take and apply to different aspects of our lives, especially in the creative field. “As actors, we might say that we need new headshots before going to auditions, for example. New headshots, new headshots, new headshots! Forget about the headshots. It’s not about your headshot. It’s about your skill,” Pascal emphasized, since it’s in our human nature to fabricate excuses in order to postpone the inevitable.
Another highlight of Digital CLOC was the end of season gala. The gala included remarks from the director, performances, fast-motion videos of the costume and scenic designers sketching and sewing, and in the spirit of Zoom transparency, a blooper reel with mishaps varying from falling cameras to pet cameos. The performances featured Broadway’s Analisa Leaming and Andrew Polec, as well as excerpts from the company’s rendition of The Gondoliers and Orpheus in the Underworld. Watching the actors do the can-can in unison from their Zoom frames was a favorite moment of mine. Even through my dab computer screen, the talent of the CLOC students is evident.
The gala was an opportunity to honor the hard work of the company during this one-of-a-kind summer. At the same time, this summer is a testament to the fortitude of theatre. “Would I want to do this again? Probably not,” Pearson jokingly said in his closing remarks. “But the experience brought us benefits that we can continue to implement in the future. For instance, it allowed us to connect with alumni.” CLOC developed stronger relationships with the local community. In addition, the ability to broadcast allowed them to reach a wider audience.
Despite the challenges we now face by taking so many aspects of life to online platforms, we are learning that virtual theatre is a viable venue. Digital CLOC produced a plethora of content. And above all, it enabled the company to fulfill its mission. When all of this started, Pearson recalls thinking, “What is it that we really do at CLOC? We provide a training ground for young artists and that is not cancelled.” A student who did CLOC last year and Digital CLOC this summer explained how the experience never stopped being intense and demanding. It might not have been in the theatre and it might not have been live, but the artists were able to forge ahead, performing and creating against all odds.