Escape Room Production Shot
A view of UofT Opera's Escape Room courtesy of cast member Renee Fajardo. Photo: Renee Fajardo

UofT Opera has taken adapting to online streaming to a whole new level with their ground-breaking production Escape Room, the first opera fully composed for the internet.

Teaming up with award-winning production company Riddle Films, the UofT Opera Student Composers Collective has created an all Canadian production made by students, for students.

“I think its nice to see that we have these capabilities as students and we want to keep using them. I hope that this piece inspires other schools, during times like this pandemic, that we can do these kinds of things, continue to do work and put stuff out there,” says director Mario Pacheco.

Sacha Smith in Escape Room
UofT Opera student Sacha Smith in full costume that was shipped to her home for the virtual filming of Escape Room. Photo: Sacha Smith

The story of Escape Room follows real and fictional characters, from Vlad the Impaler to Doug Ford, who are stuck in a virtual reality. Conceptualized by director Mario Pacheco, designer Wesley McKenzie and libretto by Michael Patrick Albano, the characters have no idea how they got where they are and comedy ensues.

“After so many Zoom calls and so many Face Times, it brought me to this idea of what is purgatory or ‘hell’, which was a never-ending Zoom call which we can all agree is hell,” says Pacheco.

For the past few months, students were abiding by the stay-at-home order for Ontario, but that didn’t stop them from making the most of their rehearsal time. Each student received a package with their costume, backdrops and lights which they used in rigorous recording sessions with the production ream over Zoom.

“What makes [the show] special is the fact that is it has been able to survive this incredible thing that has been put upon on. We have been overwhelmed with the COVID lockdown, we were like, ‘What do we do? Do we just cancel?’ So, that’s what made it extraordinary because we at least had advanced warning [to adapt],” says Albano.

Renee Fajardo in Escape Room
UofT Opera student Renee Fajardo in full costume in preparation for the filming of UofT’s Escape Room. Photo: Renee Fajardo

Luckily, the singers could watch a video of a conductor on their screen while recording without lag thanks to multiple programs, a recording engineer monitoring the quality remotely, and filmographers working with the students while they were filming.

“It’s a big pill to swallow when you’re intending to do a stage production, and then you have to go virtual,” says Albano. “I was glad to have made that choice of a non-linear absurdist thing because that could transfer.”

UofT Opera will be performing Escape Room on Feb. 28 at 2:30 pm, free on Zoom.

More information for Escape Room can be found here https://uoftopera.ca/productions/.

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