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BWW Blog: High School Theatre During Covid-19: An Interview With My Classmates

Take each day one at a time. You are exactly where you need to be right now.

BWW Blog: High School Theatre During Covid-19: An Interview With My Classmates

When my classmates and I were told by the district that we would not be able to put on a live theatrical production in the 2020-2021 school year due to the pandemic, the world was practically over for us. Not only was the pandemic affecting our at-home lives, but it destroyed the art form that went to school for every single day. Theatre for us is a distraction from the rest of the world, a place where nothing else matters but entertaining an audience. The fact that it was being taken away from us, especially in our Senior year right before we were off to college, was something that seemed impossible. Alternatives to live theatre like virtual streaming events were introduced, and all around the world, students and professionals were adapting to this New Medium. Teachers completely changed their coursework to include online and in-person kids. I decided to interview two of my best friends Heather Cruise (12th, Musical Theatre/Tech) and Rachel Robinson (12th, Musical Theatre), and ask them some questions about their love for theatre, how they are dealing with the pandemic, and how it has affected their theatre training in high school.

1. What is your favorite show you have ever worked on?

Rachel: My favorite show I have worked on was 35mm. Unfortunately, this show was canceled due to covid-19, but the weeks I worked on this show was amazing. It is a really innovative song cycle with amazing songs, killer harmonies, and one of the most talented casts I have ever worked with.

Heather: My favorite show I have ever worked on was Crazy For You. In this show, I had the opportunity of working on both sides of the table, as a performer and choreographer, and learned so much through the process about ensemble work and leadership skills.

2. How many theatre classes are you taking this year and what are they?

Rachel: I am taking three theatre classes: Musical Theatre, Acting, and Dance.

Heather: I am taking three theatre classes this year: Directing, Dance, and Musical Theatre.

3. Do you think that as an in-person student that you are receiving the same education/attention as the virtual students? Why?

Rachel: I do not think that the virtual and in school students are getting the same education and attention. I am currently an in-person student, and when I was online I felt much less motivated. I think simply by being in the building I am forced to actively participate and learn.

Heather: As an in-person student, I do not believe the level of education received is equivalent but rather is increased in person. For the beginning of the year, I was virtual for several weeks and found it challenging to learn the material with constant distractions and internet troubles so I believe the level of education I am now receiving has significantly increased due to more teacher engagement and interactions with my peers.

4. How are your theatre teachers adjusting to teaching students at home and in school at the same time?

Rachel: My teachers are adjusting as much as they can. Especially with arts, it is hard to give people at home the exact same experiences as in the classroom. But a lot of my teachers have been doing much more virtual and recorded theatre assignments.

Heather: I believe my theatre teachers have adapted well to the change in teaching style with the smartboards given to all teachers. They are able to see all students at once and engage those online more.

5. What is it like taking theatre classes in-person wearing masks/virtual and alone?

Rachel: Taking theatre classes with a mask is honestly not as bad as you would think. In vocal classes, it muffles sound some but we have a plexiglass shield that we can go behind when we perform to be extra safe. As far as dance goes, breathing was hard at first but it has improved all of our lung support and is a challenge that we are all working towards bettering.

Heather: Taking theatre classes in person with masks feels pretty much the same in terms of personal work but I am constantly worried about whether my mask will fall while I'm moving. Finding new ways of interacting in group scenes and assignments has also been a unique challenge but has opened up a whole new world of theatre.

6. What is the biggest challenge you are facing with this shift in theatre?

Rachel: I think the biggest challenge I have faced is the lack of community. My favorite part of theatre is that I get to form bonds with all of my castmates, and with our new hybrid setting and no productions, it is so much harder to feel connected to my fellow performers.

Heather: My biggest challenge is finding a way to maintain the spectacle of live theatre virtually without turning it into a movie.

7. Do you think that there is extra stress places on students now more than ever?

Rachel: Yes. I think it has always been very hard to adjust to change, and right now we are being thrown more changes than ever before. I think it is also much harder to be motivated in such sad times, which adds to the everyday stress.

Heather: Yes, 100%. We are expected to be so technologically savvy and learn new programs for each class. Teachers are much more strict about specific time deadlines which aren't the most effective because the systems put in place by the school district are always glitching, resulting in missed assignments.

8. What art form do you think is having the hardest time adjusting to this change?

Rachel: I think any sort of performance art is struggling right now. It is unsafe for dance, theatre, singing, etc. to continue holding big rehearsals and having big audiences. I think theatre is especially difficult because in addition to dance, we use our faces as actors, and this is taken away when our mouths are covered.

Heather: I believe anything that relies on live audiences is struggling right now because of the lack of large gatherings.

9. What were your plans at the beginning of the year and how have they changed?

Rachel: My plans at the beginning of the year were extremely different. I am currently auditioning for musical theatre college programs, so I thought I would be flying all around the country auditioning for schools. I also thought that I would be performing in the mainstage musical and constantly participating in department activities with my peers. Pretty much all of that has changed, but I got some amazing new experiences in place of them.

Heather: My plans at the beginning of the year consisted of competing at the remaining dance competitions I had for the year, performing in my yearly dance showcase, doing nationals, traveling to New York and Tallahassee for dance summer programs, and having all the typical beginning of the year activities for seniors. My plans changed because I unfortunately was unable to do any of these. Instead, I simply adapted and found virtual ways of completing my remaining dance competitions and showcases. I found local intensives to maintain my training this summer and found time to relax and do a lot of self-reflection on my goals after high school.

10. What is the most positive thing that you can take away from this situation?

Rachel: We have all learned a lot about different mediums of theatre than the stage, and gotten a lot more proficient in technology and its power. I think we have also learned how valuable it is to be patient, understanding, and kind to the people around us. It is more apparent than ever that everything could be taken away in an instant, so I am focusing on savoring the good moments.

Heather: I have begun to appreciate the little things in life and recognize how short life is. My life was so fast-paced, so quarantine gave me a chance to begin to find value in the small things in my life and recognize what ultimately brings me joy.

11. What was the last theatrical show you saw? Do you regret not seeing more when you had the chance?

Rachel: The last theatre production I saw was In the Heights at a local high school on March 14th, the day after schools shut down. Thinking back to this moment is bittersweet, and I definitely wish that I had seen more live theatre when I could.

Heather: The last theatrical show I saw was Chicago and The Rockettes Christmas Spectacular at the beginning of 2020. I do regret not seeing more theatre when I had the chance because the world is so unknown right now and no one knows when/if we will go back to the way theatre used to be.

15. Do you think that virtual theatre is going to stay an option forever?

Rachel: Yes! I have spoken to a lot of college faculty members who have said that from now on, virtual auditions will always be an option, and I think this is true for other theatre performances as well. Making theatre virtual make is much more convenient, accessible, and less expensive, so I think it's here to stay.

Heather: I believe we have only touched the surface of the opportunities that virtual theatre has to offer and I can't wait to explore these different options, from VR theatre to holograms and more, in the future.

16. Any last words for Broadway World Readers and students taking theatre classes right now?

Rachel: Take this time to really hone in your skills and focus on your craft. It is so easy to fall out of love with theatre when you aren't actively doing it, but my advice is to sing every day, take virtual dance workshops, read plays, and listen to cast recordings. Focus on what you can do and take this time to improve for when everything is back to normal.

Heather: Take each day one at a time. You are exactly where you need to be right now.

I asked Rachel Robinson a few more questions about her work in our high school's virtual production of She Kills Monsters - Virtual Realms:

1. What was it like running rehearsals and recording the show?

Rachel: It was such an amazing experience working on this show. Rehearsals were a great way to escape from all of the craziness and do what I love most. Every day I would join a zoom call after school and collaborate with my fellow actors to create something amazing. Our director Savannah Whetsell was understanding and encouraging, and it was overall a very fun process. I also got to play a larger than life, out of my comfort zone character, which was an exciting challenge for me as an actor.

2. Biggest success? Biggest challenge?

Rachel: I think the biggest success was the final product. We were all so proud of the work that we created with the circumstances, and our audience had an overwhelmingly positive response to the work that we did. I think the biggest challenge was definitely all of the technical difficulties we experienced. It is so hard to ensure that everyone's cameras, microphones and wifi are working at all times, and this caused some problems during rehearsals and filming.

3. Do you see the Dreyfoos Theatre Department continuing to do some time of online shows in the future even after the pandemic is over?

Rachel: I don't know if Dreyfoos will continue to do fully virtual shows, but I think our newfound knowledge in the virtual realm will help us to create interesting and innovative projects in the future.

4. Any tips for those Broadway World Readers who are putting on digital theatrical productions at school or with a theatre company?

Rachel: HAVE FUN WITH IT! Don't focus on the fact that it's not live or what it "would've looked like" if it was onstage. You are creating a completely new form of art, so embrace it and think of the ways you can make your performance special through a new and fresh medium.

THANK YOU to Rachel and Heather for answering my questions about High School Theatre during the Covid 19 Pandemic. I hope to do more of these interview-style posts for BroadwayWorld because I had so much fun asking my friends these questions!

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