High school theater programs improvising during pandemic
It was just before the final rehearsal for “Mama Mia” in March that Dublin Jerome High School Drama Club director Zack Pytel and his students found out their show was being canceled because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
Pytel tried to salvage what he could. He had as many people as he could attend the dress rehearsal to watch the students perform for free, he said.
No playbook exists for how to run high school theater programs during a pandemic, and many directors are improvising, trying to find ways to keep the curtains from closing on their programs.
After Jerome's March production was canceled, students had no theater productions until late last month, when Pytel arranged “15 Years of Jerome Theatre Cabaret,” featuring scenes and monologues from Jerome shows over the years.
In keeping with state health requirements, the production was performed Oct. 23 and 24 at the school’s performing-arts center at 15% capacity, Pytel said.
About 100 people could attend each show, and audience members were limited to the students’ families, he said. The shows also were livestreamed for those who wanted to purchase tickets to watch from home, he said.
“The most rewarding thing was just to be able to give the students an avenue to be able to perform again,” Pytel said.
Pytel said he has chosen a smaller-sized production, “Little Women: The Musical,” for students to perform in March and still be safely distanced when on stage. He said he expects to have the same audience restrictions as the October show.
The other Dublin high schools are making similar efforts.
At Dublin Coffman High School, theater director Dan Stowell has chosen the school parking lot as the venue for a 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 14, production of “Choose Your Own Musical Adventure” so audience members can watch from their cars, he said.
Stowell said his students have been rehearsing online via video calls, as well as in person at the school in small groups.
About 20 students are participating in the show, which features songs, poetry and monologues that celebrate people sharing moments, he said.
Some recorded pieces will be shown via projector, and students also will perform live using microphones and speakers. A few students in the district’s Remote Learning Academy will participate in the recorded parts, and some might come to watch it live, he said.
“We tried to make opportunities for everybody,” Stowell said.
Stowell said he has other ideas in the works, but everything is "in pencil for now."
Like Stowell, Patricia Santanello, theater director at Dublin Scioto High School, is taking advantage of virtual opportunities, both for rehearsal and production.
She said the school’s Theater 3 class is working on a piece in collaboration with an annual veterans project at the high school. This year, that event is virtual, and the students are creating Google Slides presentations from interviews with veterans, she said.
Her students are working with those students to turn their interviews into a play, “The Scioto Veterans Theatre Project.”
Santanello said the show will be recorded in bits online, with students’ performances recorded either at their homes or at the high school on an individual basis.
She said she anticipates that it will be available to stream online early in December for $5.
December also will bring “The Holiday Channel Christmas Movie Wonderthon Stay-at-Home Edition,” a comedy written for a Zoom-style show, Santanello said. The production will be online to stream Dec. 11, 12 and 13, she said.
In January, she plans a collaborative project with the social-studies department, resulting in a show rewritten for a virtual performance: “The Alternate: A Musical Tale of Nicola Tesla."
After that, “Tuck Everlasting: Theatre for Young Audiences Edition” will be a virtual performance slated for February, she said.
Santanello said she chose the virtual method for the performances because they would be easy to transition to the stage should the pandemic end. In the meantime, she can guarantee that the virtual productions will not be canceled, she said.
“The kids need stuff to do to look forward to,” she said.