Pandemic spurs New Albany Youth Theatre performances to move online

SARAH SOLE
ssole@thisweeknews.com
Madeline Page, 14, a New Albany High School ninth-grader, rehearses at home for the New Albany Youth Theatre production of "The Show Must Go Online."

This summer, New Albany Youth Theatre was supposed to produce "Aladdin Jr." at the Jeanne B. McCoy Community Center for the Arts.

Instead, because of the reality of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, the nonprofit organization moved its productions online, offering two free virtual musicals.

The youths, said managing director Joe Bishara, pivoted accordingly.

"Kids are pretty agile, especially when it comes to technology," he said.

Now in place of its fall musical, the theater organization is offering another virtual performance that will premiere free online Oct. 31.

"The Mystery of Custodia," a Halloween mystery featuring drama-club students investigating school staff disappearances, will feature a cast of 17 youths.

The actors will meet online to rehearse and will film their parts solo, Bishara said.

An online audition boot camp is slated for November, he said.

When the pandemic hit, casting for "Aladdin Jr." already was completed, Bishara said. So, he said, he spoke to the organization's board of directors about offering the youths a way to act from the safety of their residences.

"Everyone agreed," said Bishara, who also is the theater director for the Abbey Theater in Dublin.

"The Show Must Go Online" premiered July 10 and featured solo performances Bishara had edited together, and "The Big One-Oh!" was performed July 24 and featured monologues as well as ensemble numbers performed via Zoom.

Fourteen-year-old Madeline Page, who participated in "The Show Must Go Online," said she was grateful for the opportunity to further develop her skills and perform for an audience even while quarantined.

Page, who had been set to take part in "Aladdin Jr.," said when rehearsing and filming her piece for "The Show Must Go Online," getting into character at home was a bit challenging, because her family -- and two dogs -- were there.

"Thankfully, they were all very helpful in being quiet while I filmed, and even in giving me feedback," the New Albany High School ninth-grader said.

Page said she enjoyed that everyone in the cast got to play an individual character.

Although each person had his or her own scene and was never in the same room with others, the actors were able to make a performance happen, she said.

"I also enjoyed the fact that the show is based on what is happening in the world right now; it gave me the opportunity to draw from my own life experience and incorporate that into my character," Page said.

Like Page, 11-year-old Lizzie Huelskamp also has had to adjust to performing online.

Huelskamp, a sixth-grader at New Albany Intermediate School, performed in "The Show Must Go Online" with the Dublin Abbey Theater and "The Big One-Oh!" with the New Albany Youth Theatre.

She also was in the Joffrey Ballet school's online version of "Phantom of the Opera."

Huelskamp is rehearsing for Dublin Abbey Theater's "A Midsummer Night's Dream for Kids" (available to stream at 7 p.m. Oct. 2 on the city of Dublin's Facebook page) and plans to audition for New Albany's "The Mystery of Custodia."

She said she found technical challenges to be the hardest part about performing virtually.

"Zoom is not always my friend, and my internet speed is not the fastest," she said. "It's also challenging as an actor to tell the story without being able to rely on costumes, makeup, lighting, props and scenery."

Actors feed off audience energy, but with virtual performances, actors have to instead trust their directors and castmates, Huelskamp said.

Huelskamp said she appreciates that the New Albany Youth Theatre has given her the opportunity to continue doing what she loves.

"Theater is my outlet for expressing myself," she said. "It's taught me how to see the world through someone else's eyes and express feelings and thoughts that may be different than my own."

New Albany Youth Theatre's virtual shows can be viewed for free at newalbanyyouththeatre.org/our-shows.

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