The freshmen class of Michigan State University’s Department of Theatre have created a mockumentary-style web series satire about the experience of starting college during the COVID-19 pandemic. Freshman Showcase: Pandemic’d! will premiere its first two episodes with a Facebook Live Viewing Party on Friday, February 12, at 8 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.
While this is the 14th year for the Freshman Showcase, it is the first time the performances will be delivered in a virtual setting. Director and Department of Theatre faculty member Sarah Hendrickson, who specializes in comedy and improvisational theatre, was up to the challenge of having to pivot this experience to an online format. Joining forces with co-director Ryan Welsh, Assistant Professor of Theatre and Media Acting, the students were given the opportunity to share their freshman experience through the lens of humor in the form of an episodic comedy.
This innovative project has allowed our new students a pathway to pursue their theatre education, combined with the freedom to explore community and performance.Stephen DiBenedetto, Chair of the Department of Theatre
“This year we were especially conscious that freshmen needed to find a way to bond and jump into our production season in a meaningful way,” said Department Chair Stephen DiBenedetto. “This innovative project has allowed our new students a pathway to pursue their theatre education, combined with the freedom to explore community and performance.”
In Pandemic’d!, members of the Department of Theatre freshmen class are followed by a fictitious camera crew as they explore their first year of college. The actors delve into the uniqueness of existing in a university and society that have been impacted by a pandemic. The directors describe it as “Parks & Rec meets Glee meets Waiting for Guffman meets The Office.”
Welsh says the lessons learned from shifting this production online will be tools the students can use for the rest of their careers. “The boundaries imposed by this time are real, but we discovered that the limitations of creativity are nonexistent. These artists dove into this bizarre, goofy little project with both feet, having no idea what the process would produce; I’m proud of the work they put into this and hope it inspires them to continue thinking outside the box.”
The boundaries imposed by this time are real, but we discovered that the limitations of creativity are nonexistent. These artists dove into this bizarre, goofy little project with both feet…I’m proud of the work they put into this and hope it inspires them to continue thinking outside the box.Ryan Welsh, Assistant Professor of Theatre and Media Acting
Hendrickson agrees, saying “One of the goals of producing Freshman Showcase is to help acclimate our freshmen to their new lives and the things that are expected of them as newly minted adults. This freshmen class has been challenged like no other one before them. Though many of them are not here in East Lansing, they have spent their first semester as Spartans learning how to improvise, both ‘onstage’ and in real life. The ability to adapt is an invaluable skill and they have tackled their situation with aplomb. They are forging lasting, meaningful connections to a supportive network that encourages them to follow their dreams and stay creative during times of crisis.”
What started out as a concept to deliver one short film soon ballooned into numerous episodes as the students embraced the challenge and the new skills they were learning. The team is still editing the content the students have submitted and will be releasing new episodes throughout the spring 2021 semester.
Freshman Showcase: Pandemic’d will premiere its first two episodes on Facebook with a free, live viewing party on Friday, February 12, at 8 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. To join the viewing party, visit the Michigan State University Department of Theatre Facebook page. Following the premiere, episodes will be available for viewing on-demand on the Freshman Showcase 2020: Pandemic’d web page.