By Marissa Drew
The Covid-19 pandemic has been a universal struggle for all students this past year. Most of all, it’s taken its toll on those of us involved in after-school and extracurricular activities. Last year, the day before the opening night of Snider’s High School Musical, it was announced that the show would not be allowed to go on, leaving the entire cast and crew heartbroken. The halt of theatre happened not only at Snider but globally, with countless shows being canceled and theaters closing their doors. This year, however, theatre departments are working hard to find ways to continue to produce the magic of theatre while still keeping everyone safe. I have had the pleasure of experiencing these efforts firsthand.
Back in late October, Fort Wayne Youtheatre began auditions for their production of “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” a show they had planned on doing back in the spring, but ultimately had to cancel due to the spreading virus. Although I sent in a video for my initial audition, I was impressed with the way the company ran its in-person auditions when I arrived for callbacks. They had divided the floor into large squares and each auditioner was assigned one to sit in when it wasn’t their turn. When reading from the script, the actors would move far away from everyone else, even keeping space between the other people they were reading with, in order to have the option to remove their mask if they felt comfortable doing so. The process went smoothly and even the youngest kids complied.
These safety protocols continued as the show was cast and rehearsals began. After almost a year of not being able to perform on stage, I was over the moon to take on the role of Susan Pevensie. At first, I was unsure of how we would maintain safety during rehearsals, but Youtheatre had already spent months over the summer brainstorming the precautions they would take.
According to Christopher J. Murphy, assistant director of Fort Wayne Youtheatre, “If you follow the rules laid out by the doctors and scientists, it does allow you to have some version of normal while keeping the risk really low.”
Although that version of normal has made rehearsals look much different than they might have in the past, it has proved to be effective.
Cast members keep their masks on at all times and keep socially distanced when not acting as much as possible, as well as begin and end each rehearsal with some hand sanitizer. On stage, many adjustments have to be made to ensure safety, including limiting not only costumes and props but also touching and close contact situations. While most people might shy away from this issue, Murphy sees it as a fun, creative challenge.
“It’s forced me to approach material from new perspectives and not rely on how I would normally think a scene should be staged,” Murphy said. “How do you tell a story when people shouldn’t touch or even be close to one another? That part of it, while coming from unfortunate origins, has actually been kind of fun and I’ve tried to focus on those creative challenges as much as I can.”
There are many times in the show where characters are spread out from each other and when touching is necessary for a scene, it is limited or adjusted. For example, there’s a moment in the script where Susan embraces her brother Edmond, but it was changed so that she only cups his cheek, keeping their faces apart and limiting contact while still giving the characters that sweet shared moment together. During rehearsals, we also avoid touching when we can by still acting out the motions but hovering over one another.
Snider has been making its own adjustments when it comes to the performing arts. Although the chances of the theatre department putting on a school-wide production this year look slim, Mrs. Ankney has been working with her advanced theatre arts classes to continue producing theatre magic. In her second period class, we students are wrapping up our production of “The Election,” a comedy about two teens running for student body president. The play was done entirely virtually, with scenes filmed over Zoom with greenscreens and make-shift costumes. The show is student-led, directed by Dylan O’Toole, who also does all the editing and finds creative ways to comedically embrace the struggles of producing a play over Zoom, making the show self-aware.
Something this pandemic has proved is that no matter what stands in our way, artists will continue to create. It is our nature and our passion and something that society as a whole relies on.
“Theatre is by its very nature a coming together of people,” Murphy said, “and obviously, that’s been impossible or nearly so for a year now. The easy choice would be to just close the doors and wait it out. But because Youtheatre is also an educational theatre, we’ve felt a real need to continue serving our community in whatever ways we can.”
Theatre is not just storytelling with some pretty lights and costumes, it’s a way for people to connect, to experience, to learn, to advocate, to cope, to express, to find joy, to understand, to grow. Theatre reminds us that we are not alone, something crucial under today’s circumstances. There may be obstacles while continuing to create plays during this time, but artists will fight through these challenges and use their creativity to persist because, even during a pandemic, the show must go on.