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Murray Journal

‘The show must go on’—Does it? How? To what extent?

Nov 30, 2020 02:59PM ● By Julie Slama

Corner Canyon’s Shakespeare team, all masked up, swept the competition in their division of the virtual high school Shakespeare competition and three students earned college scholarships. (Melissa Thorne/Corner Canyon High School)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

After several high schools along the Wasatch Front were closed for two weeks or brought back on hybrid schedules, theatre teachers are questioning the old adage, “the show must go on” and to what extent.

“We take that scenario, ‘the show must go on,’ and change it to ‘one show at a time,’ and ‘one day at a time,’” said theatre teacher Adam Wilkins, who’s school, Cottonwood High, was shut down and students learned remotely two weeks in mid-October. “It’s really, whatever works well for high school theatre departments and their communities.”

Wilkins had planned the typical November musical performance of “Joseph,” only with a reduced cast size of 50 students. That now has been pushed back to 7 p.m., Dec. 3-5 and again on Dec. 7. There also will be a noon matinee on Dec. 5.

“We put recordings of our choreography on YouTube so our students can do their part and practice,” he said while the school was online and no in-person rehearsals were allowed. “We’re trying to keep the kids safe. So, we adapt to how we can do live theatre safely. We wear masks, wash hands, sanitize, decrease numbers of kids, practice intentionally in small numbers of ensembles, and follow the Salt Lake County health guidelines.”

Wilkins said that at Cottonwood, patrons—only 500 of the 3,000 seats will be filled and they’ll sit socially distanced—can expect to see the performers in matching black masks.

“We’ll wear masks at performances and rehearsals. That’s nonnegotiable,” he said.

That’s not the same criteria at all high schools as each district determines what’s best for its communities. Nearby Murray High School allows actors to be unmasked for the performances. 

Murray High, which also was shut down, allowed its students to rehearse during the two weeks in early October. Murray High students’ show, “Little Women,” was slated for Nov. 12-13 and Nov. 16 as of press deadline. Students voted on the fall musical, citing a smaller cast and simpler set would be more appropriate during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Draper’s Corner Canyon High experienced one of the highest COVID-19 outbreaks to date in the state. After weeks of online and hybrid schedules in the midst of their rehearsals, theatre director Phaidra Atkinson and her students are learning adaptability.

“There’s no normal day; we’re changing things every day,” she said in late October. “With Shakespeare, we had three weeks of rehearsal, then four weeks where we were shut down. Initially, we weren’t allowed rehearsals while the school was closed, but we were able to get in four more rehearsals during that time, since we are sanctioned under the Utah High School Activities Association.”

And with those extra rehearsals, they were able to pull off first-place results at the 44th annual Shakespeare Festival, which was held virtually.

“We swept everything; it was awesome,” Atkinson said, adding that they had a watch party over Google Meet. “It was the hardest thing we ever have done— to pull it together so fast. We cried a lot when we won.”

In December, the theatre students will take part in three senior one-act student-directed plays as well as “Broadway Backwards” charity fundraiser, both which are restricted to family and friends because of health guidelines.

With the shutdowns, Corner Canyon also moved back their auditions for their February musical, “Matilda.” Currently, they can only allow 300 family or friends in the auditorium per night for the run instead of the typical 1,300 patrons.

“It’s my hope and dream they’ll raise the 25% auditorium capacity to 50% if it’s safe,” she said. “The musical is absolutely worth doing. It’s these students’ joy, their passion and their love. We’ll take a huge hit financially, but students need something to look forward to.”

Atkinson said that she is glad she double-cast the musical as already she had 10 students in quarantine in the first 10 days of rehearsal.

“We’ve filmed some things and put them online so those at home can learn at home,” she said. “It’s so depressing for them to be at home and miss out. It’s a show that we don’t have the rights to film the entire show or to stream it, but it’s a show that’s right for our students.”

Nearby, Bingham High had planned a December screening of their filmed Shakespeare production of “Hamlet,” but in late October, students shifted to online as COVID-19 cases rose at their school and the decision was made to move it to mid-January.

“With the school closure it will be impossible for us to get everything shot and edited before Christmas break,” said show director, Jason Purdie. “We are hoping to get everything at least filmed before we leave for the break, but it all depends on how things go with COVID over the next few weeks. Hopefully, no other cast members will get COVID or quarantined and hopefully there won't be any more school closures. The schedule has become extremely tight at this point.”

Purdie, himself, was quarantined in late September, but was able to virtually meet with his students along with his co-director, Brittany Anderson.

Alta and Brighton high schools reached a peak number of COVID-19 cases in late September and early October, according to Canyons School District’s COVID-19 dashboard, so classes moved online. They returned on a hybrid schedule, but by mid-October, when cases dropped, students returned to full on-campus instruction for those in-person learners.

In mid-October, Alta theatre teacher Linze Struiksma was quarantined, along with six of her students, awaiting COVID-19 test results.

“I’ve had parents there helping as I Zoom in to be there during the three-hour rehearsals,” she said. “We’re adapting the best we can, given what we’ve gone through with being closed down, being on a hybrid schedule, and now quarantining and doing lesson plans and rehearsals virtually. We literally change what we’re doing every week. It’s teaching me and teaching the kids to be adaptable.”

Struiksma, who was able to have her kids compete and take second place in their ensemble performance in the virtual Shakespeare Festival, has been cautious in making theatre plans for the year, trying to adapt to the circumstances. 

In mid-September, she talked with her seniors.

“I didn’t feel comfortable with a full show. I was really nervous. COVID cases were on the rise and we didn’t know what it was going to look like,” Struiksma said.

They decided to perform in a showcase featuring groups of up to three students singing or performing a scene together and having two narrators bringing it together in a storyline. A tech student was assigned to each group to help design their set and costumes.

“It works well to be able to rehearse in small groups, so there’s limited interaction and if we have to (because of students being in quarantine), we can remove a scene,” she said. “The kids came up with the theme and created it.”

The show, “Divine Connections,” examines the relationships humans have—from those with siblings and parents to platonic and romantic relationships. The show was scheduled to be held at the school’s new Performing Arts Center at 7 p.m., Nov. 12-13, with only 25% of the auditorium filled with patrons.

“We wear masks at rehearsals, and had planned not to wear them during the second tech week or dress rehearsals when on stage and created a system for them when they were off, but now, we’ll be rethinking that and talking to parents,” Struiksma said.

She said that she also is rethinking the production of “Little Mermaid” for February, with concerns about producing a full musical during COVID-19 and the costs involved with it, when seating is limited.

Brighton theatre director Tiffany Davis gives credit to her students for adjusting during the challenging time.

“We rehearsed over Google Meet and learned what we could put into the scene, but it’s hard to adjust,” she said. “When we were allowed to continue to rehearse in person, kids came in, we did a symptom and temperature check, we were masked, 6-feet apart and took frequent breaks. When we could do virtual rehearsals on monologues, we did that to eliminate the risk.”

On top of working under COVID restrictions, Davis also had other concerns. As Brighton is under construction, she got news that the new auditorium wasn’t going to be ready in time for the show, so Davis moved the Nov. 19-25 production of “Hamlet” to Butler Middle—an hour before fall break, during which she got married.

“It was a crazy time, but we rallied through,” she said. “The students were so diligent and worked so hard. Nobody in the production tested positive as of now and we put their personal safety first.”

Davis did have one student pull out when rehearsals went virtually, which she respected the immediate decision was shared with her. She also said that technical aspects were impacted as they could only talk virtually, so some parts were delayed.

“It’s been hard since I love to see actors grow in their acting, and because of the circumstances, I’m not able to coach them as much as I would. It’s been challenging as some activities rely on groups, but when we break it down, it forces me to be creative and find innovative methods,” Davis said. “The show will go on—if we can continue in a safe climate.”

Note: As of press deadline, with the governor’s mandate of no extracurricular activities until Nov. 23, check with the high school for show updates and ticket information.