Magic & Mischief: Working on Puffs during a pandemic with Christine Barreca ’21
By Ella Spoelstra ’21
Back in February of this year, the Carthage Theatre Department announced the 2020-2021 season with great excitement and anticipation. No one had any idea of course that less than a month later, the remainder of the spring season would be canceled due to the pandemic. Then, during April, in the midst of remote learning, the theatre department held virtual auditions and callbacks for the fall mainstage productions with cautious optimism. And now here we are, seven months later, about to open the first show of the 2020-2021 season, Puffs, written by Matt Cox and directed by Professor Neil Kristian Scharnick. I had the chance to sit down and chat about Puffs with Christine Barreca ’21, a musical theatre major and dance minor who is thrilled to be taking on the role of Megan Jones.
Five months ago you were cast in Puffs when we were in the midst of remote learning. What has the rehearsal process been like since then? How has your mindset been different from past shows?
The initial rehearsal process for Puffs wasn’t actually all that different to what would normally be happening with the first theatre production slot of the season. It started during the summer, like it typically does. We were learning our lines by ourselves and we were having some great zoom rehearsals. We couldn’t come to campus early like we normally would for rehearsals, but I feel like we came very prepared to start the rehearsals once we did get in person. If anything, it just made us more dedicated to knowing our lines and not relying on a few weeks of early rehearsals to get us in the groove.
What was it like to work on a show while also incorporating physical distancing and masks? How have you and the cast gotten creative with artistic choices?
We have definitely been getting creative with physical distancing and the choices that we’ve made. It’s honestly made us think outside the box. There are things that are supposed to happen in the show, like a kiss or hugs, but because this is such a wacky comedy, the choices we’ve made instead are even more hilarious. We’re embracing the times we’re living in, and it really only makes it more relevant. It also makes it even funnier because we’re doing the unexpected on stage.
Theatre and performance industries across the board are quickly evolving and adapting amidst the pandemic. How has this show experience and this semester prepared you to enter the professional industry in new ways?
I think this show has given me a lot of confidence and hope that theatre is going to continue. We don’t know exactly when things will return to “normal”, but it’s proven to me that we can adapt and we’re not going anywhere. And I think that’s the greatest thing about theatre in general: we as theatre artists are so adaptable and willing to explore the new; and it only lends itself to cooler opportunities that will stay with us.
What is the biggest thing you’ve learned from this show process- either as an artist or as a person?
The biggest thing I’ve learned from this process is you don’t need someone to clap for you in order to do what you love. The thing I kept saying throughout the whole summer was, “I’m just going to be happy if we’re able to rehearse the show, if we can’t perform it, that’s okay.” Just the act of learning lines, doing the work, and being able to be on stage is more than I could have hoped for to be honest. And, of course, there are rewards coming from doing the show and letting people appreciate the work. I truly just wanted to be able to do a show. It had been so long since I’d been in a show and I just really wanted to be able to do what I loved again. So, I’m very grateful for that.
Puffs is a comedy that also has stage magic and draws upon a lot of pop culture. What are you hoping people walk away feeling after watching this show?
Puffs has given me and this cast so much joy. To be able to carry a wand in your hand and pretend to be a wizard is never something I thought I would be able to do on stage. This is like my 11 year old year self’s dream if we’re being honest. And I think it’s a fun show to perform, especially in light of a pandemic. There’s serious topics and things that the characters face in the show too, but it brings me a smile every time I walk on the stage. I get to be in this magical world, and it’s a fun place to be able to go. I hope that people who can see the show, will be taken to that same place. I think right now more than ever, people really need to laugh, and just be taken away. Escapism is a huge function of theatre. Theatre really gives you something to hold on to, especially when things are rough. And I think theatre should be especially serving that function now.
As this is your senior year, what is something you wish you knew freshman year, or a piece of advice you’d give to current freshman?
Something I wish I had known as a freshman is how fast college goes by. I would tell myself to seize every performance opportunity you can, take every workshop show, do every directing scene. I would tell myself that every chance to do theatre and make art is a chance to do what you love, to make memories; and it’s only going to make you more experienced later on. The moments I missed the most while not being able to go to school this past spring were being in rehearsal, doing shows, and practicing my lines. So, I’d say to find those moments where you appreciate what you’re doing. I try to really enjoy it now because you don’t know what you’re missing until it’s gone. And I think everyone in this community feels that way too.