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Thursday, December 7, 2023

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Gabe Floresca-Igtanloc Gabe Floresca-Igtanloc

Zahn Awardee Defied Odds with Pandemic Theater Production

Gabe Floresca-Igtanloc overcame many roadblocks to ensure theater at SDSU would continue during the COVID-19 pandemic.
By Kellie Woodhouse

“The creativity and entrepreneurial spirit Gabe showed in facilitating and encouraging theater during the pandemic is remarkable.”

For every curveball the pandemic threw at him, Gabe Floresca-Igtanloc kept pivoting and persevering.

The senior theater performance major spent his undergraduate career training for the opportunity to lead San Diego State University's Musical Theatre Club and direct, choreograph, produce and perform in the musical “Spring Awakening.”

But COVID-19 caused several venues to fall through, greatly limited the ability to rehearse in-person and presented roadblocks that forced Igtanloc to think on his feet and — time and time again — re-envision the play, a coming-of-age musical set in provincial Germany.

Where many students may have wrung their hands and quit, Floresca-Igtanloc adapted. His play had a successful four-day run at SDSU’s Don Powell Theatre in April. 

“We really made a beautiful piece of work, despite all the punches we were thrown. It is something I am so proud of,” Igtanloc said. “The community came together in the end to make this happen. A lot of people were really invested in bringing the theater back after being away from it for so long.”

Igtanloc is the recipient of SDSU’s 2021 Zahn Spirit of Innovation Award, an honor given to a graduating senior for exceptional entrepreneurial achievement. The award is distributed by the Division of Research and Innovation and recognizes students who are “passionate about solving a problem, persistent, and uninhibited by roadblocks, naysayers, limited resources or the fear of failure,” according to a call for nominations sent to each college this spring. 

“The faculty could not support large productions during the pandemic and Gabe stepped in with a spirit of dedication and vision,” said Robert Meffe, head of SDSU’s musical theater department. The professor nominated Igtanloc for the award, adding that the senior “achieved beyond what I thought was possible” by producing two musicals during the pandemic. 

The first of the two, “The Mad Ones,” was a small, entirely virtual affair. The second performance, however, included a large team that performed on stage and filmed the performance for digital viewing April 15-18.

To help fund “Spring Awakening” — which included 14 actors and 20 support staff — Igtanloc successfully applied for a $2,300 SDSU Student Success Fee Grant, as well as private donations. He recruited students from SDSU’s musical theater performance class and held hours-long rehearsals over Zoom until the team received the all-clear to practice in person. After securing and subsequently losing reservations (due to COVID-19-related issues and technical issues) for two open-air theaters on campus, Igtanloc received special permission to perform at the Don Powell, an indoor venue that required him to delay production by a week and rework choreography to accommodate safety protocols in a smaller space than originally anticipated. 

Igtanloc was vigilant about COVID-19 safety protocols, as just one COVID-19 positive case would not only set back his performance, but likely other performances also rehearsing on campus at the time.

In fact, he and his team took the opportunity to be creative with required masks, integrating the masks into actors’ costumes as a way to signify characters being silenced or muzzled. 

“The creativity and entrepreneurial spirit Gabe showed in facilitating and encouraging theater during the pandemic is remarkable,” said Hala Madanat, interim vice president for research and innovation. “Gabe is a wonderful example of the perseverance and ingenuity of our students during an unprecedented and unpredictable year.”

The Zahn Spirit of Innovation Award is funded by Irwin Zahn and the Moxie Foundation and comes with a $25,000 scholarship. Zahn’s philanthropic giving goes beyond this annual scholarship. His donations also created the Zahn Innovation Platform (ZIP) Launchpad and the Zahn Professorship of Creativity and Innovation.

After graduation, Igtanloc plans to study theater and performance at Columbia College in Chicago and use the award money to help fund his master’s degree.