Now in the final days of preparation for UCF Celebrates the Arts, Bobby Malke ’20 works hard to check off any number of tasks on his to do list. Updating event setup sheets, sending emails to gather information and attending production meetings via Zoom.

He is exactly where he wants to be, doing the thing he loves, and it’s an opportunity he thought he missed his chance on.

“When we had to cancel last year, honestly one of my first thoughts was, ‘What are we going to do about Bobby?’ ” says Heather Gibson ’17MBA, director of marketing and communication for UCF’s College of Arts and Humanities and a member of the event’s steering committee.

Gibson describes Malke as “Mr. Celebrates the Arts.” He developed a passion for the event even before he was officially enrolled as a theatre student when Claudia Lynch, coordinator of UCF’s stage management program, offered him the opportunity to sit in on classes, attend the festival and tour backstage as a high school student interested in UCF.

“I could not believe that was a university doing this — just the scope and scale they were able to achieve with the festival,” Malke says. “They weren’t just taking the yard or one of the venues. They took over the Dr. Phillips Center and it’s such a beautiful venue. I think that reinforced all the feelings of why I wanted to go to UCF.”

In 2018, he served as production assistant and student production carpenter for the festival. The following year he was assigned an assistant stage manager position.

In 2020 he was set to serve as lead stage manager until the COVID-19 pandemic forced UCF to transition to remote instruction less than four weeks before Celebrates the Arts was set to take place.

“I understand why last year had to be canceled, but in that moment all that goes away for a second and all I could feel was this void — that this is my senior year assignment and I’ve been surrounded by this festival for my entire time at UCF and it goes away just like that,” he says. “It was this deflating feeling but my first reaction was to thank the rest of the team and show that I appreciated their work in the planning process and helping me.”

Malke graduated in 2020 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in theatre-stage management and he returned to a job at a Clearwater radio station near his family until he could find a job in his field.

Then earlier this year, once Celebrates the Arts was green lighted, UCF came calling with a paid position as an associate production manager for the festival — allowing him to play a crucial role in the event like he was supposed to last year.

“I got brought back into the process right where I left off as a student,” he says. “It is really special to me that this is my first professional gig out of college — working with my alma mater with my department and people who mean so much to me.”

Malke is excited for UCF and the Orlando community to enjoy this year’s festival April 2-10, which has forced the artists and producers to exercise their innovation and creativity in order to put on memorable in-person and virtual events.

“I think this year showing that we can — I’ll just say it — ‘charge on’ right through the pandemic and adapt to this beautiful outdoor space,” he says. “We didn’t say, ‘This is too much work to figure out, let’s just wait another year. We put our heads together to figure out how to get this done in a safe way and put on a good quality show. I think audiences are going to be really impressed with how we’re able to make the unusual circumstances seem usual.”