The show must go on: ASU's School of Film, Dance and Theatre holds first-ever virtual auditions


April 27, 2020

Professors, students and staff around the world are adapting to new learning environments for their classes, but what about educational experiences and activities beyond the classroom?

For theater students at Arizona State University, a crucial component to their curriculum is the work they put into productions produced by the School of Film, Dance and Theatre, both behind the scenes and on the stage.  From upper left to lower right: Stephanie Gentry-Fernandez, Maritza Cervantes, Yadira Correa, Gina Cornejo and Belinda Cervantes in Teatro Luna's production of "Machos." Photo by Johnny Knight. Download Full Image

In an effort to help slow the spread of COVID-19, spring theater productions have been postponed and cancelled, and the school is looking to the fall semester. Planning for fall shows, including the crucial step of casting, always begins early in the spring. So the school held its first-ever virtual auditions the last weekend in March.  

“The whole thing has been a beautiful learning experience and one I feel quite privileged to have been a part of,” said Alexandra Meda, director of the school’s fall production of “Machos,” an investigation of what is macho, or what is masculinity.  

“Machos,” which is slated to premiere at ASU in October, comes from an anti-suppression group that examines how gender is performed. 

In 2006, frustrated by the patriarchy and its impact on all genders, Teatro Luna, a Latina and women-of-color theater company where Meda serves as artistic director, set out to ask men this question directly: "What does it mean to be a man and what are you really thinking?"

The result was “Machos,” a performance drawn from interviews with 100 men nationwide and performed in drag by the all-female social justice theater company in 2007 and 2008 in Chicago and on a regional tour to colleges and universities. 

The initial auditions and callbacks for the fall performance at ASU were held via Zoom over the course of three days, and the feedback, although varied, was mostly positive. The school’s production manager, Carolyn Koch, said it was a “really smooth process.”  

“It was easy to move people in and out of the breakout rooms so that they have a private audition with the director,” she said. “For the callbacks, the director and choreographer met with all of the performers together. They each got to participate equally and share their interpretation of the prompts. Everyone seemed very relaxed and at ease.” 

Koch said one benefit to virtual auditions is that performers can audition from anywhere, which could allow more people the chance of being cast in a show for future auditions.  

“Even if we were not in the current situation, I think some of this could be helpful because it allows someone to participate without needing to be physically present,” Koch said. “So they don’t have to allow for travel time from their place of work, et cetera.”  

Hugo Crick-Furman, a third-year theater major, is not unfamiliar to auditioning via an online tool. However, this was their first live virtual audition.  

“A live but virtual audition process seems to be made of the worst of both worlds, really — the liveness and inability to do multiple takes that makes physical auditions so nerve-wracking, coupled with the limitations of having to express a physical artform through a digital medium.”   

However, Crick-Furman said, Meda made the process for the “Machos” auditions a positive experience.  

“The director managed to create a very calm space that was open to the possibility of risk-taking — ideal for any audition environment.”  

Meda credited the actors with helping to facilitate a constructive setting for the auditions and said she was proud of all the participants.

“My process is all about identifying a level of deep-knitted group dynamics, and the best way to do this is to put everyone in a room together and see how they interact, who supports whom, and who is able to model leadership and compassion while also showcasing their artistic soul,” she said. “Not an easy formula. Luckily the group of actors we invited back to callbacks came with such an incredibly generous spirit we were able to, within 90 minutes, really drive some real connections.”

Meda said the show is not fully cast yet and recognizes some students may not have had the chance to audition in the chaos of all the changes. She said they are adjusting the timeline to allow for any additional auditions that still might need to take place.   

Danielle Munoz

Media and Communications Coordinator, School of Film, Dance and Theatre

480-727-4298

ASU alumna helps others navigate uncertain times with mindfulness practice


April 27, 2020

Arizona State University College of Health Solutions alumna Tiara Cash describes what she does for a living as “reaching out and holding space for others.” 

And right now, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, that is exactly what she is doing as program manager of ASU’s Center for Mindfulness, Compassion and Resilience. When the university shifted to remote learning and working, Cash helped move the activities of the mindfulness center online for a daily noontime session of virtual meditation and support, offering people a place where they can reach out and add to their “bucket of resilience,” as Cash calls it, to alleviate some of their anxiety as they deal with social distancing, quarantine and the risk of disease.  mindfulness team zoom screen Tiara Cash (top left) helps present a mindfulness session on Zoom.

Cash, who graduated with a BS in exercise and wellness in 2013, knows a little bit about resilience. After suffering a career-ending injury in collegiate track and field, she struggled with her new “retired athlete” identity. As an exercise and wellness major, she had studied the hard science of physical wellness, but she had never thought about how mentally and emotionally fit you need to be to weather physical setbacks.

Although she had practiced meditation for years, the experience with her injury inspired her to integrate physical, mental and spiritual practices for a holistic approach toward wellness. In addition, she researched similar experiences of other student-athletes and found that athletes who transitioned to retirement most successfully were those who could call on the meditative practices of introspection and awareness, the same techniques she used in her own transition.

Today, she continues to use this mind-body-spirit approach to help student athletes and others in her work at the mindfulness center. In addition, she is also working to extend mindfulness beyond the self and out into the community through her Equitable Mindfulness Initiative which explores mindfulness as a change agent for social justice and equality through programming and research.

She spoke recently about how the global pandemic has changed her work and how other health professionals can use mindfulness to cope. 

tiara cash

Tiara Cash

Question: How have you adapted professionally during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Answer: The change was almost instant. When we found out ASU would be moving to an online platform for the rest of the year, our immediate response was to find a way to fill the gap. It happened quickly over one weekend when we decided to do our Midday Mindfulness sessions online as part of our first wave of change. Now that we have established this daily platform, we are getting a lot of requests to do presentations and workshops through Zoom, which I find wonderful! In the next week alone, I have three presentations to classes, departments and community members online.

Q: What did you learn at ASU that helped prepare you for your career? Is there anything from your ASU experience that you’re using now to help you navigate this current situation?

A: ASU taught me how to be flexible and to find ways to be innovative under pressure. The faculty, staff and my employment at ASU’s Sun Devil Fitness Center while I was a student helped prepare me. I also learned flexibility and innovation from the faculty and staff at the College of Health Solutions who created pathways on my behalf, specifically, finding creative ways to make sure my classes fit my degree when I transferred to ASU so I could graduate on time. I’ve also used my experience as a presenter at conferences when I was a student which helped me learn how to navigate uncertainty with grace.

Q: What advice do you have for others wanting to make a difference in health in the current climate?

A: Be flexible! We are living in unprecedented times. We will experience emotions and reactions that we cannot predict, so it’s important to remember that we are all human. As human beings we each have resilient capabilities that will help us get through situations like this. I would also say to take extraordinary care of yourselves as practitioners and individuals who work to heal others. We are being looked to as the superheroes of today, but we cannot fill the cups of others until we fill our own. 

Q: Anything else you'd like to share about practicing mindfulness for those working in health?

A: Anything helps. Taking 10 minutes to belly breathe or do a short loving kindness meditation is so beneficial. There are apps you can download that will take you through meditations and scripts online that you can do yourself if you prefer. Also, be kind to yourself as you use these practices over the next few months. Most people like to have a routine for practicing mindfulness and meditation. It’s wonderful if you can commit and continue that routine, but if you find yourself missing your normal routine because we are out of normalcy, remember that finding a few breaths here and engaging in some gratitude there still adds to your bucket of resilience. Anywhere you can find time to check back in and do a quick mindful practice will ultimately help you in the next moment.

Kelly Krause

Media and communications manager, College of Health Solutions