Theatre students frustrated by mask mandate


Artie Bennett

Director Hardy Weaver and a student practice for the spring production of Head Over Heels, March 15, 2022. Rehearsals for the show will be masked, though actors will perform unmasked.

Domonique Tolliver, Life and Times Assistant

Students in the Department of Theatre Arts & Dance said they are frustrated by the inequality of mask mandate enforcement between groups of students on campus.

Artistic Director of the Department of Theatre Arts & Dance Salvatore Mannino said theatre arts & dance has two shows in production right now, which will continue to rehearse with masks until technical rehearsals begin for the productions of “Head Over Heels” and an untitled devised project.

While some students still support masking, they said it is unfair the way theatre arts and sporting events and practices are treated differently in terms of masking.

According to Mannino, the mandate came from him and the directors, Hardy Weaver and Helen Jaksch. It’s unclear whether specific departments, shows, directors, or organizations are able to require masking.

“They are saying that all the performing arts people have to mask but then ignore the fact that the sports people are not wearing masks. It’s literally like ‘High School Musical’ shit,” said theatre arts junior Ti Zampino.

Students, like musical theatre senior Haley Sliker, said they are doing physical activity just like sports players but the mask mandate is enforced in their theatre rehearsals while it is not for sports related events.

“There is a great divide. It’s just frustrating because this isn’t something new, the arts are always pitted against athletics,” Sliker said.

Mika Litton is a musical theatre sophomore. Litton and other students understand that due to the pandemic, the best thing to do for everyone is to mask up.

“However, I think it’s funny how the school likes to pick and choose where it’s more rigorous about its masking issues,” Litton said.

Zampino said when the department put on “Intimate Apparel” in December of 2021 maskless, they ran into little to no problems because everyone in the audience was required to be masked and show proof of vaccination. They also said there was a smaller seating capacity and social distancing was in place for all actors on stage.

Psychology and theatre arts junior Vidal Amador-Flores III is an ensemble member of the productions. Amador-Flores said that his position requires lots of full-out dancing and spinning, which he says can be difficult while wearing a mask.

“We are what makes the show feel alive with our dancing and character work. It’s really tough on the ensemble to keep on dancing and jumping,” he said.

Sliker said performing is often mistakenly seen as something that doesn’t require physical activity; however she said dancing, singing, and playing instruments are very taxing on the body.

“In musicals, we’re doing some of those things at one time. So this idea that we aren’t working or using our bodies as athletes would just isn’t true. We just get our training on a stage rather than a field or court,” she said.

As for athletic training, the Director of Athletic Communications Camal Petro previously said masks must be worn at all times for athletic activities except when participating in high-intensity workouts or training such as practices, games, and weights.

After the mask mandate for the university was dropped, Petro said that masking is no longer required for athletic activity.

For some students, masking during intense physical activity has exacerbated previous health issues.

Theatre arts sophomore, Steven Pendleton, said that even without masks, they have a difficult time breathing because of years of gender-confirming chest binding. Pendleton said wearing KN95 masks after the omicron variant has made it even harder to breathe while performing.

“My ribs just don’t naturally expand like other people’s do. I am trying to be the most secure we can be. It’s a struggle but it’s preferable to spreading the pandemic around,” Pendleton said.

Many students in the productions said they questioned if sports players were allowed to be unmasked because of access to university provided testing. However, Petro said if a student athlete is exposed to COVID-19 outside of athletics, testing is the sole responsibility of the student.

Sliker said theatre students find this situation even more frustrating in a college setting, as students are paying thousands of dollars to get their degrees in theatre arts, while student athletes are participating in scholarship-based extracurriculars.

“They aren’t earning a degree in basketball or baseball. When exceptions are made for athletics and not the performing arts it gives the idea that we’re somehow less important,” she said.

Amador-Flores said theatre is their outlet to express themselves and doing that while wearing a mask is tough and frustrating. Litton said masking while performing and rehearsing inhibits the performance in ways as it muffles the sound, making it more difficult for artists to project.

“I think we’ve made it very clear that the arts play an important role in human connection. It’s just upsetting that we’re consistently seen as unimportant at school and in our community,” Sliker said.

Students, like Zampino, said that although they support masking up and getting your COVID-19 vaccine in order to slow the spread of the virus, they need to find a balance.

Some students said they still have questions about the requirements.

Litton said they question why theatre students are required to wear masks while singing and rehearsing if COVID-19 cases are as low as the city and university have reported them.

“Do we have to mask because we have an increase in omicron cases?,” Litton said.

Pendleton said as they work through these challenges, they are grateful to the theatre department staff for everything they have done over the course of the pandemic to try and keep their education fruitful and safe.

“We are going to keep working through this pandemic safely, respectfully, and with determination and care for our craft. We’re going to keep doing what we love, even if we’re wearing masks,” Pendleton said.