Tara Collins worked as Production Director for this year’s Third Mask Festival. The annual event showcases devised theatrical works from graduating MFA students in the European Devised Performance Practice (EDPP) Program. Tara is a junior Arts Management major with a concentration in performing arts and live entertainment, and she spoke to us about her involvement with this year’s event through her Events Management Practicum course.
What value do you see in Practicum courses like Events Management and why did you choose to take this class?
This class has been incredibly valuable, and it took my learning from the Presenting the Performing Arts course and actually put it into action. Last semester in Presenting the Performing Arts, a lot of the discussion was around how to present theater during and after the pandemic, which was hard to envision actually ever doing, but now here we are doing exactly that. Practicum courses are a lot of work, but it is also reassuring to see that as students we do have the skills and capabilities to present live events. A practicum course was required for graduation, but I specifically chose this class because I know that after college, I would like to work with event management specifically in the performing arts, hopefully dance or theater. I also wanted to take this course with Clayton Smith, as I value his expertise and knowledge that he brings from personal experience in the industry. This course has been unique because we are working directly with the artists in the planning stages, which is an important skill to acquire for the entertainment and creative industry.
Tell me more about the Third Mask Festival and how it was staged this year.
“There are three masks: the one we think we are, the one we really are, and the one we have in common.” -Jacques Lecoq
The Third Mask Festival is a weeklong event that showcases the thesis projects of the MFA Candidates in Columbia College Chicago’s European Devised Performance Practice. This festival showcases new performative works that explore the concepts of movement-based theatre, the poetic body, and personal and ensemble performance and creations.
This year, the festival was staged in a hybrid format to accommodate live performances with the main concern of safety. There were three main performance models presented to the audience: a live, in-person performance with a limited capacity, a live stream, and prerecorded videos of the performances played via film screenings or directly available to the Third Mask Festival website. The festival was modeled with flexibility at the forefront, so it could be as normal as possible while in a pandemic, while also being accessible to those who are unable to be in Chicago for performances due to the pandemic or distance. The timing of the performances was staged around multiple time zones for maximum primetime viewing for those on the coasts and overseas…many of the MFA Candidates have connections in Europe from the beginning of their program. In addition to the performances, there were three panels and a student-led workshop produced over virtual Zoom webinars.
What were some of the challenges of planning a theater festival during a pandemic?
It’s safe to say that planning live theater or any variation of theater has been a challenge throughout the pandemic. The festival was modeled around trial and error from previous works that have been presented; we closely studied other festivals and virtual productions to see what learnings we could incorporate into our festival. I would say the biggest challenge was planning virtually and not having the ability to work in person together as a group; it was challenging to try and hop into another breakout room to ask a question when in person you can just walk up to them and ask and receive a rapid answer. Zoom is not the most cohesive for fluent conversations, but we did our best to make it work with multiple forms of communication. Another challenge that planning theater during a pandemic presented is the everchanging regulations and safety protocols. As the pandemic changed with waves and vaccines, our plans changed; we had to follow what the city of Chicago was mandating. We wanted to create a festival that was accommodating to the performances, but also accommodating to mass audiences with limited capacities.
What did your role as Production Director look like?
As Production Director, my main role was keeping the task at hand organized and running as smoothly as possible. Some days this meant I was talking closely with the other directors for answers to questions, setting up Google forms and surveys, lots of schedule revisions, and reaching out to volunteers and Columbia staff for extra help to make the festival happen successfully.
How do you think your experience producing this festival will help you in your career goals?
I believe that my experience producing this festival will help with my career goals by actually having reputable experience and knowledge to bring to the table. In previous work experiences, I have had the opportunity to work on large events, like The Nutcracker for The Joffrey Ballet, but I was an intern so I was doing small tasks, I was not planning a production from start to finish. I believe that this is a unique experience that Columbia offers that allows graduating students to stand out in future endeavors. This experience has given me a hands-on experience that demonstrates what live event production actually entails, which will do me wonders in the future for my career instead of only having textbook knowledge.