Story Submitted by Max Kelly

Before the pandemic: I performed daily. I was in three active improv troupes, and an assortment of other scattered projects. My roommates would joke with me that they should rent out my room during the day; it was vacant all the time! Then, it all stopped. At first, it felt like a much needed break. But, before long, I felt myself missing the creativity I was able to express so frequently. Nothing has been QUITE the same, but I stumbled into other things that allowed me to stay active. Of my three improv troupes, two were comedy based (Quadruple Stuffed Oreos, and Murphy Bed Surprise) and the other was a form that focused on re-telling/honoring stories that were shared by the audience (Playback UCF.)

As for the comedy troupes, here was my replacement: Dungeons and Dragons. What a nerd, right? Well, Monsieur Le Jock, I’ll have you know that sitting down in front of a zoom call with your close friends, alcoholic beverage in hand, and making them laugh with funny voices and role playing is actually a STUPID amount of fun. It’s just like improv: You play a character, they get put in all sorts of different contexts, and you end up telling a pretty cool story (and you’re doing it with your friends.) Every member of the group is into theatre/improv as well, and we’ve created some really memorable moments with just our minds and some laughs. It’s as creative as anything else you can do.

As for the storytelling troupe, Playback UCF, we actually never went away. We transitioned into zoom performances. It took experimenting and a decent amount of work, but we ended up performing several shows that packed the same emotional punch that our in-person shows do. It was rewarding to create something that was polished and legitimate under the circumstances the world is under. We still rehearse, twice a week, and have shared our format with other groups.

Now lastly, I am very proud to say that I am playing a role in one of the first live-shows in Central Florida since the outbreak. The director and producer boldly took on the project: a live, outdoor, drive-in theatre production of Euripides “The Bacchae.” He worked to find and rent an outdoor location where actors will remain 6 feet apart, and audience members will watch from the safety of their vehicles. We began table-work through zoom, and have recently transitioned into socially-distant blocking rehearsals.

From all of this, I learned that people will be able to pursue their passions despite all circumstances. The product may look different than what we’re used to, but it’s art all the same. And! There is a widespread anticipation for a return to normalcy. When people typically go to a comedy show, they buy their ticket because they want to laugh. When they sit down, they are ready and willing to laugh and enjoy themselves. Right now, that readiness and willingness is as powerful as ever. I’m excited to experience it.

Story Submitted by Alexis Labrada

When quarantine began my job closed along with school so I went back home to New Jersey. When I got back I realized I couldn’t see anyone, not even close friends because my dad has asthma which makes him more susceptible to the virus. While I had my sister with me I did not know what to pass the time. At first it was easier to keep busy with my online classes since I had to finish the semester off, but I was not as motivated as I was at school. Once classes ended I really did not know what to do. I was doing pretty well with keeping active as fitness is what I enjoy most. I was doing at home workouts and posting them on my social media to help others get active during quarantine. I also wrote personalized at home workouts for my clients to do since my job was a personal trainer. However, keeping active was not enough to get me through the days. I decided to start taking on challenges. I wanted to be able to hold a handstand for a long period of time, which is so random, but I practiced every day until my wrists hurt. This was something that was fun for me to do daily, but again wasn’t enough. I then decided to get better at speaking in Spanish since my family speaks it so I started to use Duolingo. However, yet again it was not enough so I decided to take on the biggest challenge of them all, renovating my dad’s house. This has been keeping me busy for the last 3 months and I can’t wait to see the end results.

Story Submitted by Kassidy Pierce

I am a graduate of the now infamous class of 2020. After 5 years at UCF, I’m finally graduating with two degrees: a B.S. in Entertainment Management and a B.A. in Theatre Studies. In March, we began our week-long Spring Break and by the end of that week classes had moved online for two weeks, and then the remainder of the semester. While it wasn’t the ending to my college campus experience I had anticipated, we found a way to make the best of it. Instead of an official graduation ceremony, my family organized our own. I “walked” around our pool in my cap and gown and to make it more fun, my family dressed up with me. My mom in her old grad school robe, my dad in a wizard robe and hat, my sister in her wet suit, and my brother in gigantic funky glasses. The real loss I was mourning was the five shows I was producing through UCF’s developmental theatre organization Project Spotlight. This was my third and last semester as Project Spotlight’s Artistic Director after being with the organization for 3 years. Officially, the school was closed and the shows were cancelled. Unofficially, we knew it couldn’t end there. My Leadership team and I immediately started brainstorming ways to celebrate the hard work of the casts, crews, and playwrights in this new time of social distancing and quarantine. Since every part of our shows are done by students, we decided to wait until the stress of the semester and finals was over. We reached out to the directors and casts to see if they were interested in remounting their shows for an online platform. Amazingly, almost every single person was able to “come back” to work on these shows. We organized a three night festival on our facebook page we called OAF 2.0: The Show Must Go Online. Our festival was viewed by almost 2,000 people across all three nights. Getting to work with everyone again, even under the changed and less than ideal circumstances was truly a gift. I was reminded, as I have been again and again throughout my life, of the power of storytelling. I am so grateful to have been a part of this organization and it was a moving end to my time with it. I am not walking out of college into the world I expected, the entertainment industry and theatre may feel the ramifications of this for years to come but I have found that through it all the art survives. The artists will always create. We find new platforms or build them. For now, I take an online acting class, I organize online readings of new plays, I work, I read, I dream, and I plan. The future may look dark but there is always a light, and so we keep moving forward.

Story Submitted by Anthony Mottarella

My name is Anthony Mottarella and I am an undergraduate student at the University of Central Florida. I was planning on staying in Orlando for the summer of 2020 until the COVID-19 pandemic cancelled all face-to-face courses at UCF. I instead came back to my hometown of Melbourne Florida, and lived with my mom and 11 year old brother, John. It was extremely nice to spend time with them because I am a very family oriented person and love both of them immensely. Even though I was staying in the same house as them, I sometimes felt that I did not see them enough due to my rigorous work schedule. Right when I came back to my hometown, I asked my former boss if I could have my job back, as a server at SquidLips Over water Grill in Melbourne. My boss immediately texted me back that he would love to have me come back and work full time as a cocktail server. My best friend Sam also works at SquidLips so it was extremely nice to work with him and see him on a daily basis. There were a lot of positive aspects about moving back but there was always the fear of getting COVID-19 because I am face to face with a large number of customers. Also, SquidLips is the second largest restaurant in Melbourne so the odds of COVID-19 spreading through the restaurant is likely. Being an essential worker during the pandemic has shown me lots of things. It has reassured me that I have an amazing family who have the funds to provide me an education and a roof over my head. It has also shown me that the majority of workers at squid lips serve as their main source of income, and by closing down the restaurant, they would not have money for rent and monthly payments. Many employees have also complained that they have not received their unemployment even though they applied in march. The media portrays a lot of fear from the elderly population but I have seen the stress that the pandemic has placed onto our blue collar workers. Luckily, every worker at SquidLips has been financially and emotionally helping each other out, and are moving through this pandemic as a work family.

Story Submitted by Nathalia Candelario

In January 2020, I made the brave decision of pursuing a career with the United States Air Force. I left for basic military training early in January when the civilian world was still very much “normal”. As you may know, while at training we cannot keep or use any cell phones. The only way of communication in regards to what it is like beyond the gates of the base was writing to our loved ones or our instructor telling us important information. Towards the end of January, I had received a letter from my friends and family explaining this concern of a new virus that came up in China, today known as COVID-19, and that it has been spreading fast in China. At the time, training did not change because it had not hit the U.S. quite yet. However, later in February, we were told that they had quarantined a good amount of people from cruise ships on our base. Because the virus still was not big, we were able to graduate as normal and see our families and walk around the city, but we were the last graduating class able to have a ceremony, see our families, and walk off base. After our class, the other classes were not so lucky due to the tremendous spike in cases here. During my job training, I had experienced many limitations, such as having to walk with friends with maintaining social distance, wearing masks at all time, quarantining incoming classes from basic training, having to eat pre-made meals instead of the dining facility, unable to complete fitness tests, not being able to leave base and expediting my graduating date 2 weeks early. All in all, training for all branches have taken a huge turn compared to when I went through earlier in the year and will probably continue to adapt to current situations.

Story Submitted by Mattea Muench

Everyone remembers their high school graduation. For some people, it was important, for others, it wasn’t, but everyone remembers it. Walking across the stage, shaking hands with faculty, holding a diploma, and smiling in photos with family and friends. Whether you’re 85 or 25, everyone has graduated high school the same way. Except for me, and the thousands of other high school seniors impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. When spring break was extended, we celebrated the extra time at home. But as weeks went on and the chances of us returning to school in-person set in, so did disappointment. Would we get to say goodbye to teachers? What about senior traditions? No prom? But most importantly, will we graduate? And how? Some schools immediately decided to host graduations virtually, while others, like mine, drew out their decisions until July, and left us hoping for a proper graduation, only to be disappointed. I didn’t realize how excited I was to graduate, surrounded by my friends and family, until it was taken away from me, and despite putting on a brave face and understanding that it was necessary to keep people safe, I was upset. Nothing, however, brings communities together like random acts of kindness, and boy did my community deliver. My church surprised all of its seniors with gift baskets and yard signs, and strangers bought my coffee for me countless times after seeing my decorated car in drive-through lines. After proper isolation, my friends and I were even able to have a mini-prom, complete with decorations, courtesy of our moms. Is virtual gradation going to make up for the life experience I have to miss? Maybe not, but the love from the people around me is more than enough, and it’s because of them that I, just like everyone else, will remember the spring I graduated high school.