The show must go on
December 3, 2020
Even in the best of times, staging a live performance requires suspension of belief, pulling audience members into a mystical realm situated beyond the fourth wall.
This year - 2020 - may be remembered as the worst of times for aspiring performers, as concerns about safety take center stage.
Summerland School's play production team and coaches have learned to adapt to on- and off-stage challenges so the show may go on.
Director Julie Harley said the initial adaptation came with play selection.
"This year's play had to come with rights to live-stream, record for asynchronous production or perform live," the veteran coach noted.
Harley, along with assistants Sarah Kesting and Mackenzie McClellan, selected Peter Pan, adapted for the stage by Jon Jory. The play is produced in cooperation with yourstagepartners.com.
Auditions were held earlier this fall and, for the most part, consisted of in-person tryouts.
Zoom auditions were used for two students who were unable to participate in person, due to COVID concerns.
The virus slowed one coach and, once again, the band of thespians adjusted.
"We had to Zoom auditions with one coach who had COVID," Harley said.
Once students took to the stage, other challenges surfaced, especially since students are required to wear masks.
"As directors, we have not been able to really see facial expressions," Harley said.
Directors watched students perform sans masks during the Niobrara Valley Conference meet, Nov. 15, in Elgin.
Harley said, "Students have had to act with their whole bodies, their eyes and their eyebrows even more."
Cassidy Bearinger, who portrays TinkerBell in Summerland's production, said actors wear masks while backstage and remove the covering to return to the action.
"If we had to wear masks during performances, it would be very difficult, you would lose facial expressions and lines would be muffled and not easily understood," she said.
Prior to the start of the season, the Nebraska School Activities Association adopted modifications for district performances.
Optional mask usage for performers was noted; however, fans, judges, directors and crew must wear a face covering.
Additionally, host schools are to work with local health departments, for requirements that may be necessary during the day of performance. Costume changing areas, food service for directors and judges and sanitation measures are included in those discussions.
COVID concerns have changed the structure of one-act play competition.
Typically, students watch the day-long slate of productions.
Under normal circumstances, plays are scheduled 45 minutes apart, allowing each school up to 30 minutes for the production and 15 to pitch and strike the set.
"NSAA has suggested a minimum of one hour between plays," Harley said.
She judged the East Husker Conference meet in Tekamah recently and plays were staggered every 75 minutes.
"The first play I judged started at 9 a.m., and the last one at 5:45 p.m.," Harley said.
Now, students arrive shortly before the scheduled performance time, unload the set - leaving it outside - and wait their turn.
"When the play before them has cleared the stage and exited, the stage is sanitized; then, our students enter through a different entrance," Harley said.
Fifteen minutes prior to the scheduled performance time, cast and stage crew pitch the set.
Then, it's showtime.
When the curtain closes and the spotlight fades into darkness, students move the set outside and return to the school to receive an oral critique from judges.
Set pieces are loaded and students return to school.
That's one of the most difficult parts of the process, according to Harley.
"Students have not had the opportunity to learn by watching other schools perform," she said.
Only parents were allowed to view the conference performance.
Harley said the lack of audience presents a challenge, but giving back-to-back-to-back performances at the three school sites last Wednesday helped.
"Since we have some humorous moments, it was helpful to know when to slow down."
She said not having a public performance, where family, community members and former students can attend has been another adjustment.
"It has been a tradition, at least at the Ewing site, in the past to have a Sunday afternoon or evening performance, along with a dessert theater, either on Thanksgiving Sunday or the Sunday previous to that. We always get some good critiques with fresh eyes seeing the production," she said.
The team competed in the C2-5 district play production contest, in Newcastle, Tuesday.
Cast members made one finaladjustment.
Bearinger said one of the primary performers is currently under quarantine.
"We have a girl stepping up to learn all her lines the day before our district meet," she said.