Aamyneh Mecklai, Staff Writer
And go on it will. Meet Theodor Lordache, one of the Trinity College Dramatic Society’s (TCDS) co-presidents, who led TCDS through the rocky waters of COVID-19, introduced virtual theatre and entertainment, and fostered a sense of community — albeit virtually — during a time that it was most needed.
“For a lot of people, myself included, theatre and the arts perform the function of escapism and perform the function of letting us express ourselves. What else are they for, right?”
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
Theo: My name is Theo. I’m a fourth-year student at Trinity, and I’m doing a major in Economics alongside a double minor in English and Drama. I have been involved with TCDS ever since my first-year. I was a huge theatre kid all through school and when I came to college, I knew I wanted to get involved! I was involved in a couple of shows in my first-year along with one of the shows that Hart House did for their season that year. I directed plays for TCDS in my first and second year. I’m mostly a Classics head — like Shakespeare and the Greeks. That’s what gets me going. Last fall, in my third year, I directed a Greek tragedy. In my third year, I was a member-at-large at TCDS, and then I ran for President — and now we’re here!
Q: Tell us about Trinity College’s Dramatic Society.
Theo: I think TCDS is the oldest society club that has continued on at Trinity College. For one of the assignments for a theatre history class of mine in second year, we were asked to go into the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library and pick something to write about. I remember finding an old program for Shakespeare in the Quad from the ‘50s that I picked up to write about. It was really cool to see how the site had changed over time. Essentially, we’re one of the handful of major drama societies on campus alongside the Vic Drama Society, St. Mike’s Troubadours, and UC’s drama society. We typically put on four to five shows a year, ranging from Shakespeare to musicals.
Q: TCDS has a rich history and some incredible traditions that date back to the ’50s. How has COVID-19 impacted these long-lasting traditions and plans for this year’s season?
Theo: You might say that a working year at the TCDS begins at the end of the previous academic year, in April. That’s when we start picking out our shows for the next year. Usually, the way that works is that we start with an online form — we pick out pitches that we like, and selected pitches are invited for interviews. With COVID-19, we moved our interview deliberations to over Zoom. But what was interesting was that we started looking for alternative modalities for our shows. Can we do Zoom theatre or something audiovisual in nature that you don’t have to be in person for?
We got one pitch for Halloween — Dracula — which was initially pitched to us as a regular play to be performed physically with the presence of an audience. We loved it so much, and we knew that it would be timely to put it out during Halloween. This was just before the summer of 2020, and we started thinking: by Halloween we probably won’t have the ability to do this in-person, so why don’t we make this a radio play? We pitched this idea to the director and rolled with it.
In terms of other COVID-19 adaptations, we have begun to conduct live auditions over Zoom. We have been trying to actively support our creative team which is working remotely during this period of time, especially for our musicals that are working over Zoom. For example, we used our excess budget to buy mics that you can plug into your computer and record high-quality audio with. We send these over to the shows that need them, and then they return it back.
With the onset of COVID, we’re trying not to charge a whole lot for anything. A: Because this is a difficult time for everybody. Theatre and the arts are modes of respites. B: Because TCDS doesn’t really need the money as much as other student societies do. So, a lot of the time, we make the online viewing free and have suggested donations. That’s generally how things have been working with us over the past year.
Q: How does student engagement at TCDS compare to pre-COVID times?
Theo: I think that there may be two sides to that question. First, in terms of the number of people that come to see the plays: how large are our audiences? Second, student engagement in terms of the number of people that audition and propose plays: how excited are students to create theatre as opposed to just watching it?
In terms of our student audiences, unsurprisingly, for now, the numbers are lower. Especially since these are online events, you have the freedom to watch some of the show, press pause when you’re midway through, and finish it a couple days later. Therefore, there aren’t as many people for the live streamed events. But people are still watching, perhaps at their own time. And I can’t really blame them!
In terms of creating theatre, there is a strong drive. There’s definitely a sort of sense of there’s a fire under our asses if you’ll pardon my French. For a lot of people, myself included, the arts is a form of escapism and allows us to express ourselves. What else are they for, right? So initially I was worried that this year, with COVID, people may not submit as many proposals. And for the proposals that are submitted, will there be as much of a drive behind them if people do not want to do virtual theatre?
But, to our surprise, we got so many proposals that were great, we had to say no to a bunch that we loved, as in any year. It was so encouraging to see that people are just as enthusiastic to make art in this moment as they were before.
Q: Theatre has always provided me with, apart from escapism and a mode of expression, a strong sense of community. It’s magical to see how people that are strangers to each other — and differ in age, gender, race, or interests — may sit in an audience and be united in their emotions. Theatre offers a sense of resonance. Do you still feel a sense of community and resonance through this virtual theatre experience?
Theo: In terms of community, it has been harder to gauge than before just because the only interactions you have with the wider community apart from the show you’re in are only with the occasional releases of shows. What I will tell you is that all of the campus theatre Facebook groups are just as active as ever. We’re using social media as a sort of proxy for activity within the community, and it’s going pretty well.
Q: In what ways have you and the other co-president tried to foster a sense of community?
Theo: Our goal has been to make sure that everyone on the executive team is involved and excited about what they’re doing. My Co-President Beatrice came up with a brilliant idea. We called an executive meeting and divided our team into two: one half of the team focused on promoting Tinsel Town, an upcoming show, and the other half of our team would focus on promoting BARE, our upcoming Pop Opera, to stir up some excitement within our community.
Q: Clearly, publicity and the technological infrastructure for theatre have become increasingly important as everything has shifted into a virtual space. Have there been any new roles that have been created at TCDS?
Theo: Yes, we have created new roles. We already had social media coordinators and technical directors as roles prior to COVID-19. But, we did add on new positions. After the events that occurred worldwide in the summer of 2020, we decided that it would perhaps be beneficial to bring on an equity director to the TCDS to make sure that we’re addressing those issues of equity properly and that there was someone on the executive team whose job is to ensure that everyone is comfortable and that no show is crossing the line in any way as it were. The Vic Drama Society may have pioneered the idea of bringing on an equity director, and we thought it would be helpful to bring on this role too. We just hired two equity directors around two weeks ago. Although the position is still very new, I’ve met them, and they’re fantastic. They’re already helping us with our show BARE, and as Beatrice and I pass on the baton to the next TCDS presidents, we’re hoping to enshrine this position in our constitution somehow so that this is not a one-off decision. That’s definitely something that is part of our long-term plans.