Image courtesy of the Catholic University of America
By Caroline Morris
This past week, the Benjamin T. Rome School of Drama, Music, and Art suspended their production of Urinetown, The Musical due to COVID-19 breakouts and guideline violations within the cast.
This shutdown happened despite the school’s efforts to limit exposure, which included a COVID-19 safety plan designed specifically for students, staff, faculty, and guest artists participating in the production.
Associate Dean of Undergraduate Studies in the Music Department Dr. Jay Brock will be directing the musical and described the plan that was intended to prevent the spread of the virus.
“Students signed a pledge to limit their activities to essential, not to engage in any reckless behavior such as parties, and to wear masks when outside their domicile among other measures,” Brock said. “Students also had to get weekly testing with a negative result to participate in-person.”
On Friday, February 12, Dean of the Rome School Jacqueline Leary-Warsaw sent out an email to the entire Benjamin T. Rome Music, Drama, and Art School about the violations of this pledge and the status of Urinetown.
“It has come to my attention that students involved in the Rome School’s production of Urinetown violated the Rome School Pledge,” Leary-Warsaw’s email said. “Due to the nature and number of infractions, we have decided to shut down rehearsals effective immediately.”
The decision to shut down the rehearsals was a trial to the students involved in the production, but they also understood the necessity of the decision.
“Though surprised, I had full faith and confidence in Dean Leary-Warsaw making decisions that best support our community,” senior musical theatre major Michael Stromberg, who plays Lockstock, said.
“Losing a week of rehearsal isn’t ideal, but I knew that the show wouldn’t be able to move forward if they decided to ignore the reports made,” junior musical theatre major Carrie Benitez, who plays Pennywise, said.
Leary-Warsaw’s initial email left the future of the production and the students’ roles unclear.
“After consulting with the Associate Deans and Production Staff, I will communicate whether or not we will move forward with the production. The Associate Dean of Productions will contact members of the production found in violation of the pledge and inform them of the consequences of their actions,” Leary-Warsaw said.
Leary-Warsaw, Brock, and Associate Dean of Graduate Studies & Productions Patrick Tuite met at 2:30 p.m. on Friday, February 19 to make the final decision on how to move forward with the production in a safe manner for all involved. The update was released later that day.
“I have decided to resume in-person rehearsals for Urinetown and limit the number of students, staff, and faculty participating in them,” Leary-Warsaw said.
Because of this incident, the process of putting the show together will undergo significant changes. The show will not be livestreamed; rather, the scenes will be recorded separately and edited together into a video that will be streamed at a later date.
“Rehearsals will resume when the production team and production staff are ready,” Leary-Warsaw said.
It appears that at the moment, the show will go on, but this is no guarantee, as the faculty have made it clear that safety is the priority.
“If I receive reports that students have violated the pledge or a critical number of students test positive for the virus, I may shut the production down or move it to a virtual format,” Leary-Warsaw said.
Students in the production have shown confidence in this plan and are excited for the future of the production.
“The current plan for Urinetown seems to be extremely efficient and I just can’t wait to get started again,” Benitez said.
“Dean Leary-Warsaw, Dr. Patrick Tuite, Associate Dean Jay Brock, Bryan Lilley, and the entire production team have worked tirelessly to make this production possible. They have advocated for us as students and performers to give us the experience to continue our growth even in uncertain times,” Stromberg said.
The email also stated that those who broke the pledge have been contacted and removed from the production.
Many students are appreciative of the school’s policies and decisions.
“I think that the Rome School did what they had to do in order to protect everyone who had been following the Rome School Pledge that we all signed,” Benitez said. “Even though losing members of the cast isn’t ideal, I still believe that the precautions taken were for the safety and well-being of everyone.”
Provided this new plan works to keep COVID-19 exposures low, a priority for the University, it appears that the show will, in fact, go on.