Olentangy high schools: Theater troupes rehearsing for limited live performances

Jim Fischer
ThisWeek
Olentangy Berlin High School students (from left) Ellie Torlone as Ronnette, Eva Pyle as Urchin, Amelia Thrasher as Patient, Dylan Hagerman as Orin Scrivello, DDS, Gabbie Morrison as Crystal and Maysa Holloway as Chiffon rehearse a scene for the school's production of "Little Shop of Horrors," with showtimes scheduled for 7 p.m. March 26, 3 and 7 p.m. March 27 and 3 p.m. March 28 at the school, 3140 Berlin Station Road.

The school year began with the very real possibility that Olentangy’s four high school stages would remain dark, but persistence, patience and passion have been in full force for theater students throughout the district.

Although live performances will be limited to small audiences, they’ll at least be live.

Spring season gets underway as Berlin High School students rehearse for “Little Shop of Horrors,” scheduled for 7 p.m. March 26 and 27 and 3 p.m. March 27 and 28 at the school, 3140 Berlin Station Road in Delaware.

The production features two separate and distinct casts, staging, set design and choreography, all while following social-distancing guidelines, and recorded audio tracks instead of a pit orchestra.

Live shows will feature smaller, masked audiences, with some streaming options, but students have taken these changes in stride, Berlin theater director Erin Gibbons said. 

“It’s impressive how dedicated (the students) are,” Gibbons said. “This year, they just have a lot of gratitude to be able to be here and do a show.”

Olentangy High School theater director Michael Doyle said the uncertainties have been challenging for him and students.

“The question I got most at the beginning of the year was, ‘Is theater happening?’” said Doyle, whose program will present Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at 7 p.m. April 23 and 24 and 2 p.m. April 24 and 25 at the school, 675 Lewis Center Road in Lewis Center.

“The positivity among the kids is the same as it’s always been. They’re just happy it’s happening and they get to do shows,” he said. “You don’t have to look far to find stories of the arts gone dark or of schools who put theater performances on a lower tier of priority. I can’t say enough about the level of support we’ve received from our administration.”

More:Olentangy Schools parents, students share thoughts on returning to class full time

Each of the four high schools has offered a varied season, with the district’s stages home to classic works of theater, traditional and less-familiar musicals and student-written and -directed work, among other offerings. Directors throughout the district credited Liberty High School theater director Dan Skrovan for taking the lead in figuring out how live theater would have to look for 2020-21.

“I had to go through a process with (Delaware Public Health District) because no one had even thought about what kind of guidelines might need to be in place in a school auditorium,” Skrovan said.

Skrovan called this year “a tale of three seasons.”

Liberty’s theater program presented a series of small-cast short plays in the fall, with limited audience size. In the winter, students presented a collection of one-act plays with no audience in-house, offering options for online streaming.

Skrovan opted for a large-cast musical for the spring -- Stephen Schwartz’s “Children of Eden,” with showtimes scheduled for 7 p.m. April 14-17 and 2 p.m. April 17 and 18 – with still-limited live audiences and streaming options. Live performances will be at the school, 3854 Home Road in Powell.

“Live theater relies on an audience. The communication that happens is two ways,” Skrovan said. “The students want to feel like they’re performing for someone.”

Orange High School’s theater department has presented a full and varied program this year, as well.

Informed not only by the pandemic but by the social-justice movements of the past year, theater director Cathay Swain-Abrams commissioned a new work by author-playwright-theater professional (and former Orange theater parent) Alexis Wilson, titled “Trilogy.”

Olentangy Orange High School students rehearse for their production of "Working," to be performed at 7 p.m. April 16 and 17 and 2 p.m. April 18 at the school, 2840 E. Orange Road in Lewis Center. Pictured are (front row, from left) Alexa Richardson, Emma Winder, Julia Mauger, (second row) Nevaeh Williams, Jeremy Hardjono, (back row) Seven Rocks, Jake Rankin, Mikey Masciola and Evelyn Taylor.

Presented in February under Wilson’s direction, the production follows six characters as they explore the pressures, complexities and thoughts on being Black, indigenous or a person of color as a teenager in 2020’s suburban Columbus.

“We wanted something that would represent the diversity in our student body. I was thrilled with the response of the students involved and of the school community to the work,” Swain-Abrams said. “This will not be a one-and-done thing. We’ll have main-stage programming every year for BIPOC students and in their voices.”

For spring, Orange will present “Working,” a small-cast musical by composer Stephen Schwartz and a number of collaborators, including then-emerging actor Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Showtimes are 7 p.m. April 16 and 17 and 2 p.m. April 18 at the school, 2840 E. Orange Road in Lewis Center. Based on a book by Studs Terkel, the show is about working people in a variety of professions.

“One of the things that appealed to me was that, last year, the creators allowed productions to start adding original monologues referencing the local community,” Swain-Abrams said. “It felt relevant, grounding it in the lives of real people and how the pandemic has affected the ways we work.”

The theater directors said that, given restrictions on the number of people allowed in their spaces, ticket sales for spring shows are being limited to families of cast and crew, at least initially.

“Students have taken the changes we’ve had to make during rehearsals and with blocking and choreography very seriously,” Gibbons said. “Our families are, too.”

Audience members will be required to wear masks at all times in the auditorium and be aware of distancing dots on the floors and other protocols.

Three of the schools will offer streaming options, as well. Olentangy High School is the only school whose performances will be in-person only, although Doyle said one performance might be recorded and posted online for free in perpetuity.

“This is a time that calls for grace and flexibility with our kids. There’s a lot that can be learned by playing make-believe,” Doyle said.

“I feel fortunate to have been able to provide a genuine theater experience to our kids,” Skrovan said. “It’s giving them an opportunity to do what they love and at the same time keeping theater as part of their education.”

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