Despite the challenges present in adapting a stage show based on life in the Saadiyat bubble to an online video format, the 2020 RealAD show was a triumphant continuation of one of NYU Abu Dhabi’s most beloved traditions.

RealAD: The Show Must Go On(line)

The 2020 RealAD cast reflects on the ups and downs of adapting the NYUAD tradition to a virtual format. First-year students comment on how it impacted them.

Sep 27, 2020

Despite the challenges present in adapting a stage show based on life in the Saadiyat bubble to an online video format, the 2020 RealAD show was a triumphant continuation of one of NYU Abu Dhabi’s most beloved traditions.
Preceded by virtual welcoming statements from both NYUAD Vice Chancellor Mariet Westermann and NYU President Andrew Hamilton, the performance premiered on Sept. 19 on NYU Stream. Designed to help set expectations for incoming first year students and to provide an avenue for upperclassmen to review their own experiences at the university, the 30-minute musical explored the complexities of the NYUAD student experience.
Under normal circumstances, RealAD takes the form of a live stage performance anchored by a team of students working together over the summer at the NYU Tisch School of the Arts. However, due to the restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic, this year’s stellar eight-person cast had to recreate the entire experience online from different locations.
Brian Chesney Quartey, Class of 2023 and part of the cast, recalled how the cast dealt with the realization that their experience would be radically different from that of their predecessors. “After corona started, there was a lockdown everywhere, and we got the sense that New York wasn’t going to be an option,” Quartey explained. “But we assumed we would do in person rehearsals in Abu Dhabi in the Arts Center… in the first meeting we were told it was going to be virtual.”
Even when the creative team based in New York City had not yet decided the exact format of the show — the options being a riskier live online show and the recorded format that was eventually adapted — the cast was tasked with writing sketches and songs. This process necessitated a great degree of vulnerability, and thus should have proved to be challenging online, yet Chesney revealed that the cast were able to overcome this obstacle with relative ease.
“It was interesting how it worked out, because we didn't expect Zoom to bring us together this much, we didn't expect Zoom to give us a safe space,” he described.
Nichole Campbell, Class of 2023, also admitted that she was initially afraid she would not be able to connect with the other performers, but added that she quickly found herself in an incredibly supportive environment. She particularly noted the support received from the organizers who not only scheduled one on one sessions to orient each cast member, but also provided relative freedom in the creative arena. She stressed that every song and sketch showcased in the show was entirely created by the team, and that they were never instructed to create content on a subject with which they did not deem important.
“What I was saying, what I was singing, I wanted that to be true, I wanted it to be very honest,” Campbell shared.
This creative freedom was necessary to the song writing process, according to Campbell, because it allowed her and her fellow cast members to convey subject matter they were passionate about. As a result, this year’s show was able to focus on the struggles of an online, pandemic-wrought semester, such as Zoom fatigue and the difficulty of connecting with others virtually. These new topics provided the capacity to explore the classical RealAD themes of health and safety, connecting with the UAE, academics and diversity, equity and inclusion through a more contemporary lens.
Mary Collins, Class of 2022, expressed how these themes arose organically: “We had a lot of strong songwriters in the group, and since we were trying to explore new topics in the show this year that related specifically to this current moment of online learning.”
Throughout the process, the cast could take their time to uncover how to best transcribe their thoughts and feelings into song. “We would stop for a moment, think, reflect, and go on,” shared Maryam Alshehhi, Class of 2023. “We were all experimenting and learning together.”
Unsurprisingly, these ideas, as explored through the expertly crafted show, struck a chord with many first year students. “Never have I seen the class group chat bustling with the amount of emotion that I saw on the RealAD night. We laughed and cried, but most importantly we felt welcomed” recalled Kevin Bansal, Class of 2024 and first year representative.
“Watching RealAD this year amazed me because the effort and time put into creating this content virtually was so evident,” described Colleen Mader, Class of 2024. “The problems they explored were relatable, and the fact that so many of the participants were also off campus this semester made me feel less alone in my experience as a first year.”
Tina Wadhwa, Associate Director of Health Promotion and Sexual Misconduct Support, celebrated the triumphs of the cast and crew. “Their unwavering dedication to this project has been inspiring, especially given that the RealAD program ended up being quite different from what they signed up for,” she praised. “The cohesion they built as a team — over zoom — was truly beautiful.”
“The end result was a powerful, poignant and captivating show,” she concluded. “And for many of us, it provided a deep sense of pride and connection to the NYUAD community.”
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