Moorpark’s FTMA and Theatre Arts departments collaborated to record ‘Romeo and Juliet’ for the public despite COVID-19 cancellations


The cast of Romeo and Juliet perform the scene where Romeo meets Juliet for the first time, on Tuesday, March 12, in the performing arts building. Photo credit: Evan Reinhardt

By Arianna Delgado

Due to the social distancing measures being taken to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, all of Moorpark College’s spring events and shows were cancelled for the 2020 semester. This included the theatre departments highly anticipated annual spring play which was only able perform three shows before the remainder were cancelled.

Fortunately, the Film, Television and Media Arts department were able to work with the Theatre Arts department to film the play and make it available online for all to see.

The FTMA and Theatre Arts department at Moorpark have enjoyed a long history of successful collaboration together as many students cross back and forth between the two programs. This allows for student performers to get used to working with a crew and FTMA students to become accustomed to working with actors.

For past productions, FTMA has always filmed the shows for archival purposes, the recordings were never posted online due to copyright issues. Since “Romeo and Juliet” is a Shakespeare play and in the public domain, the department was able to make it available on YouTube for public enjoyment.

Jaz Johnson, left, as Tybalt, engages in a duel with Seth Gunawardena, as Romeo, during the Romeo and Juliet performance on Thursday, March 12, in the performing arts building.
Jaz Johnson, left, as Tybalt, engages in a duel with Seth Gunawardena, as Romeo, during the Romeo and Juliet performance on Thursday, March 12, in the performing arts building. Photo credit: Evan Reinhardt

While the posting of the performance is new for the Theatre Arts department, it is nothing new for Moorpark College professor and TV and Radio Specialist Michael Grimes. In 2016, with the creation of the Production Services department at Moorpark, which allows for students to get hands-on experience on production sets, Grimes realized the importance of recording events.

“It became my philosophy that every performance, whether sports, special events and lectures, or arts should be recorded or live webcast for students to have a professionally recorded version of their dedication and hard work,” Grimes said.

The Theatre Arts department was on board with Grimes’ goal and gave the crew access to configure cameras to gain the best coverage of each stage performance whether theater, dance or music.

The FTMA crew was originally scheduled to record the shows the following weekend, but due to the fast-changing COVID-19 updates, received a last-minute request on Saturday morning to record the Sunday performance. Grimes reached out to the students of the M80 Internship class asking for interns to help film the final show, which would later be closed to the public as well, due to health and safety concerns.

Eager to help, FTMA student Liz Lattimer replied immediately and was one of two interns who worked on the production. The interns worked alongside Grimes who was the engineer in charge, Lattimer took on the critical production role of operating camera one. This includes following the actors across the stage, keeping the framing accurate and making sure the camera was in focus for the best coverage possible.

“It was a heartwarming experience to hear the theatre department before the show, supporting each other and putting their hearts into their last performance as if the house was overflowing,” Lattimer said. “No one wanted the show’s running to end so abruptly, but film and theatre came together to make sure family, friends and others could enjoy the performance online and in the safety of their homes.”

Lattimer fulfilled her dream of returning to college in 2018 and credits the FTMA department, as well as Grimes, for the immense amount of information and hands-on experience she has obtained through classes such as the internship program.

According to Lattimer, while the crew would have usually worked with more interns and had a full house of guests, they were able to pull the production off amazingly as the two departments worked together with a successful outcome.

While the cancellations were devastating for the Theatre Arts department, the actors and Theatre Arts faculty were very appreciative of the FTMA’s work to capture the performance and make it available online.

John Loprieno, Moorpark Theatre Arts Department Chair and director of Moorpark’s “Romeo and Juliet,” said that while the cast had to adjust to the circumstances, they were able to give an amazing performance one last time.

“It was very strange to be in the theatre when the cast and crew was performing in full performance with no audience,” Loprieno said, “they were really good during this performance and I’m so happy that Michael Grimes was able to pull his student crew together to do it.”

Michael Grimes walks through puppetry blocking during rehearsal for Club M on Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2019.
Michael Grimes walks through puppetry blocking during rehearsal for Club M on Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2019. Photo credit: Evan Reinhardt

The production benefitted students from both departments as they took on new experiences through the collaborative nature of the production. According to Grimes, the student interns who filmed the show reflected commitment to their work and understanding how productions sometimes go on despite changes. The Theatre Arts students also often go on to use the recordings as part of their applications to further their education and art. Grimes noted that the greatest benefit is for those watching online, who could not be there to watch the performance live.

“These recordings really reflect some of the incredible work through this collaboration between Theatre Arts, Technical Theatre, Dance, Music and the FTMA program,” said Grimes. “Everything is towards the singular goal of emphasizing our students’ success.”

These departments ultimately persevered through unprecedented changes and were able thrive through the circumstances. The Theatre Arts students will be able to look back on and remember the work they went through to present a great performance.

Interns were able to walk away with real experience and new perspectives. Family, friends and students who planned on attending a later show can now easily access the live recording.

“In the theatre we always say that necessity is the mother of invention. We work well under pressure! And good things can always come out of crisis,” Loprieno said. “We’re hoping that many good things will be learned during these trying times and that on the other side, things will be better than before!”

The recording of Romeo and Juliet is available to watch on the Moorpark FTMA YouTube Channel.