Student Arianna D’Antonio makes her post-shutdown stage debut

Sophomore+Arianna+D%E2%80%99Antonio+performs+on+stage+for+Rivertown%27s+performance+of+Descendants.+D%27Antonio+said+she+was+excited+to+get+back+on+stage+for+the+first+time+during+the+pandemic.++Courtesy+of+Jane+D%27Antonio.

Sophomore Arianna D’Antonio performs on stage for Rivertown’s performance of Descendants. D’Antonio said she was excited to get back on stage for the first time during the pandemic. Courtesy of Jane D’Antonio.

Madeline Taliancich

Sophomore Arianna D’Antonio transferred to Loyola from the University of Southern Mississippi just one month before COVID shut down campus and sent students home.

At the time of her transfer, she had been acting in the Jefferson Performing Arts Society’s production of 42nd Street, which was also cut short by the pandemic and left her without much opportunity to perform.

It had been almost nine months since D’Antonio had acted in a live theatrical production when auditions for Descendants: The Musical rolled around in November 2020.

“When I heard Rivertown was doing Descendants, I just had to audition,” D’Antonio said, citing her longtime love of Kenny Ortega and Disney Channel movies. The musical is based on the Disney Channel original movie of the same name directed by Ortega.

Out of 122 individuals, D’Antonio, a musical theatre and journalism double major, was one of the lucky actors to be cast in Descendants at Rivertown Theaters for the Performing Arts. She was cast as Audrey, but had to step in as Snow White as well just a few weeks before opening, she said. Two casts were chosen for the show, so she said she was never both characters in one night.

The decision to double cast the show came as a result of the pandemic, according to Kelly Fouchi, artistic and managing director of Rivertown. Fouchi said the double casting would let the show go on as planned, should an actor need to quarantine, because the double could step in instead.

“The fact that we had such high level talent that we were able to double these roles, which are pretty demanding vocally, was remarkable,” Fouchi said.

Other COVID protocols were put into place during the rehearsal process to ensure actor safety, including a strict rehearsal process contract, according to Fouchi. She said that actors took the contract very seriously and followed social distancing guidelines and other protocols established by the theater.

D’Antonio said the rehearsal process felt like being back to normal, but was still safe. The cast rehearsed in the theater from day one so that actors could better distance themselves, when rehearsals would normally begin in a smaller studio space, according to D’Antonio.

D’Antonio said every rehearsal was masked along with temperature checks at the start of each one, although performances moved from masks to clear face shields. The rehearsal process was even longer than usual to allow smaller groups to rehearse at a time with proper distancing, she said.

“Dancing and singing with masks on is not impossible, but it is difficult,” she said. “You get used to it.”

Despite these challenges, D’Antonio said “being on the stage at all right now is great.”

Of D’Antonio’s involvement in Descendants, Department of Theatre Arts & Dance Chair C. Patrick Gendusa said he is a “huge supporter of all our students getting out there networking, working and making a name for themselves before graduation.”

Almost a year after the pandemic shut down D’Antonio and her involvement in 42nd Street, Descendants opened at Rivertown to a completely sold out weekend. Although Rivertown has a capacity of 300, it can only seat 90-125 audience members under Louisiana’s updated COVID guidelines.

“Our seating capacity limit does make it difficult to produce,” said Fouchi. “But it makes me very proud seeing our performers giving just as much high energy and full out performances even though the audiences feel small.”

D’Antonio said the opening weekend was spectacular, even with the smaller crowds.

“To hear people laugh and cheer during scenes and to see smiling eyes in the first few rows absolutely made my day,” she said.