The show goes on: drama & tech theater weather the pandemic

Tech+Theatre+teacher+Sarah+Verona+and+Drama+teacher+Melissa+Wolf

Tech Theatre teacher Sarah Verona and Drama teacher Melissa Wolf

   The arts have been in a bit of chaos recently. With the rise of COVID-19, it is increasingly difficult for actors and crew members to gain work because of the dangerous conditions the pandemic has presented. 

   In a field filled with immediate contact and close relations, trying to operate with the new guidelines and regulations has been hard for productions, especially at the high school level. With their entire world shaken, it has been increasingly challenging to find ways to overcome the problems that come with remote learning. 

   “​In the beginning level classes, it has been difficult to approach team building and ensemble activities because we must be aware of space used in the classroom,” said Mrs. Melissa Wolf, drama and acting teacher. “We can’t operate closely together. It’s been hard in all classes because Theatre relies so much on non-verbal communication in physicality. There has been a confusing shift on how to communicate emotion without using facial expression because of the mask barrier.” 

   For in-person students, no contact is allowed and singing is not permitted inside the classrooms, even with the masks on. With zero touching, little voice inflection, and no costume changes, the conditions have been worse than desired, to say the least. 

   “I feel like I am getting more participation in all classes now that we are 100% remote. It’s nice to teach one FULL class, instead of 2 half classes,” said Mrs. Wolf. “Finding online platforms for students to do scene work and present it in groups has been difficult. I think a lot of students take Acting because they like the content but because there is also such a social aspect with the class– and it is lacking in relationship-building this year.” 

   For a long time, the school has held two productions yearly, events that give amateur actors experience in front of a live audience, and viewers the ability to witness the next generation of the arts; with that being in jeopardy, the acting department is scrambling for answers. 

   “Right now, RPS is following the Illinois state recommended limitations put in place for athletics, and that trickles down to performing arts. We had originally planned a live production for the fall, Of Mice and Men, which was then altered to wear masks and stay 6 feet away from one another if using the GHS stage. Now, it’s looking to be 100% virtual from each performer’s home because of the indoor limit of people,” said Mrs. Wolf. “That doesn’t leave a lot of participation for our tech students and how to create a world of the play when there are so many different settings. Which stinks. We haven’t come up with any good compromises yet and are open to suggestions! We are missing the live experience, hard.” 

   Fourth-year acting student and senior class president, Azelia Hinton, does not feel as if the changes were so bad. 

   “It’s been pretty good. Of course things are different, but we learned how to adapt,” said Hinton. “I do wish we were in-person, but it has taught me valuable things, like how to go do a virtual audition.” 

   Behind the scenes of all media, someone is running the show. Tech theater is a class that specializes in directing, lights, and the overall production of any shows. Now that the curtain has been closed onstage due to the pandemic, tech theater is being taught remotely. The class is still finding a way to make it work despite the fact that there are no shows taking place.

   “Sometimes it is difficult to teach a more interactive and demonstrative subject virtually,” said Ms. Verona, tech theater teacher. “However, we are focusing on the concepts and skills in as best of a manner as we can to still present and demonstrate the idea and standards.”

   Adapting to different situations and persevering through anything and everything is a part of drama. Whether it be behind the stage or in front of a remote computer screen, tech theater has always found a way around boundaries to be productive despite the circumstances. 

   “I feel that like any other subject or curriculum, there are always adjustments that need to be made,” said Ms. SarahVerona. “Theatre and technical theatre operate in a manner that is fluid and builds from concepts and ideas.  So the pandemic has supported that idea of working on the go, in the moment, and adjusting and responding to real, live moments and actions.”

   Since Tech Theater is more hands-on than the majority of the rest of the classes, the students miss being able to go in person and do the fun activities in the class.

   “Yes, I do miss being in-person,” said Katelyn Wetter, sophomore in Tech Theater. “We had so much fun learning about the costume setup, how to operate the lighting booth, scene shop, etc. Unlike my other classes, there is always something to do.”

   Many permanent changes to teaching will occur after the pandemic; drama and the arts in general are no exception to this.

   “I do know that people are working with what they got now by using Zoom to make their films and in turn making a new genre,” said Leyla Yaman, senior in Tech Theater. “If changes do happen, I believe it would be a good thing. We must learn from the past to make a better future, and if changes must be made to make theatre a safer place for the people involved, so be it. There is no theatre without the people putting their all into it.”