by Chloe Jordan | staff writer
Junior Avery Neale walks to the Much Ado About Nothing rehearsal, despite the complications of COVID, where students are already setting up the makeshift stage marked with cones. Although actors have to keep their masks on and mics separate, it’s a reminder for theatre students to be grateful to be at school. Neale is both excited for haunted house and Much Ado About Nothing.
“[The] haunted house will give me some experience with teaching while leading character warm ups and some time to work on film and editing. I’m definitely happy we get to do Much Ado in person, I love the show and my character and it has been a great experience for growth as an actor,” Neale said. “Also the cast is amazing and it’s so nice to see people again and be able to mess around while learning.”
Theatre students are still able to safely socialize and coordinate hangouts.
“Right now most of our events are virtual if they are planned for productions, but we’ll soon be trying to do a socially distanced hangout outside,” Neale said. “Other than that I know people like to go get food after rehearsal or hangout on weekends, but I know all the theatre students are very cautious so it is very safe.”
Productions have continued, thanks to the help and support of many, such as the Booster Club, who assists in fundraising, coordinating events for theatre, helping with productions in various ways, and doing small things for theatre students, such as dropping off a bag of candy for students who helped with productions.
“We couldn’t do anything without our Booster Club. They have really stepped up and helped us,” Theatre Teacher Megan Thompson said. “We also couldn’t do anything without our stage managers, because that has been such a blessing when we were, for example, trying to do porch drops.” Near the end of phase two, technical theatre students got the opportunity to start coming back to campus to build.
“We’ve gotten permission to have the advanced technical theatre students come to campus, regardless of phase, if they’re comfortable and able to,” Thompson said. “And that has been huge, because we have to continue to build things, and I am used to being able to rely on class time in order to make that happen, and now I can do that again, which is great.”
The Johnson Theatre Department has been careful with how rehearsals and build days are handled, as many safety precautions and health measures have been put in place.
“As far as safety precautions, they have been really stringent. We are relying on the district to give us guidance. Of course, everyone’s wearing a mask at all times, we are having them fill out a COVID screening form and if they don’t have symptoms, they’re welcome to come, but if they do, they stay at home,” Thompson said. “We have hand sanitizing stations, we’re trying to encourage social distancing, we remind people about social distancing, we remind them again of social distancing, because particularly theatre students’ natural inclination is ‘I love you, you’re my friend, I want to be close to you and I want to talk’.”
It’s necessary for the actors and technicians to abide by the safety rules to respect everyone’s health, and to let the show go on.
“I know people are starting to get pandemic-tired, but it’s so contagious. It just takes one person to suddenly spread it like wildfire, and it can be really dangerous. If we did have an experience where people got COVID, we would be completely shut down,” Thompson said.
Mixed emotions are felt due to changes COVID-19 has made to the department.
“I’m of two completely split minds. Of course, I have a lot of feelings of loss and sadness for the way that things normally are,” Thompson said. “But, I will say that it’s been really interesting to see what it has done for our creativity to have to come up with new ways to create art in a time of adversity, and I think that everyone has been really flexible and willing to take on these new challenges, which has been really fascinating to watch.”
While the department has not been able to fundraise as significantly, the importance of continuing shows is still stressed.
“If you want an agenda, we reduced the price, they’re eight dollars now. We did still sell ads for our playbill. But, as far as raising money this year – I think we all kind of made the decision that this is not going to be our blockbuster fundraising year, this is not going to be the year that our ticket sales go through the roof, and that’s fine,” Thompson said. “We just want to produce art. We want continuity of performance. We want people to still be expecting and receiving great shows from us. We want to be able to say ‘We did good work and we’re proud of it’. And did we make any money? No, and that’s okay. This is not the year that we’re expecting to rake in the funds.”
Many theatre students are still actively participating in and prioritizing theatre.
“I would say we’ve got a core of a god 30 to 40 die-hard, we’re in it to win it, stay with it students, and then a good maybe 10 to 20 come in, come out. It’s hard, because as we’re not seeing everybody everyday, I think that people sort of let it slide down us, slide down the priority scale,” Thompson said. “So, there is a drop off, but I am really excited and we’re very grateful to have that core of students that is still so into it and wants to produce art and wants to do it no matter what.”
Creating She Kills Monsters had many challenges.
“We thought we could film it in-person and it would be great. We had all these beautiful ideas and really good cameras,” Thompson said. “We hired a couple of ex-students to be directors of photography. It was going to be so amazing, but then our numbers went up, and it wasn’t safe anymore to do that.”
Filming then switched over to Zoom, after waiting it out to see if the numbers would go down. Transportation became a major issue.
“How are we going to get these necessary items to all of these people who need them, one of which is an audio recorder that has to be in every single person who films houses, because it has to be the same. Lighting, costumes, makeup,” Thompson said. “Some of these actors had never put fancy makeup on in their lives.”
Another issue was timing of lines from the script.
“Also, we don’t want to have every actor tied up for three weeks, all the time, so who is going to give the lines? Well, that fell to Mr. Asterman and myself, which was fine, except when we got to editing, Mr. Asterman and I didn’t deliver the lines the same way as the actors delivered the lines,” Thompson said. “So, I might say a line faster or slower than the person who was actually saying it, which would not usually be a big deal, but when it came to editing, the reaction time of the person who is actually listening will actually be too short or too long, so in editing, I think that became my biggest frustration.”
The final product of She Kills Monsters outweighed all the issues.
“That all being said, I’m really proud of the final product. I think it came out really well. I think it’s so fun and super cute, and poignant and touching, and has these moments of adventure, comedy, and sadness, and heartfelt,” Thompson said.
The Johnson Theatre haunted house will occur on Halloween, Oct. 31. It will be virtually presented as a point-of-view walk-through. More information will be given out later, once all the details have been worked out. Filming began Wednesday, Oct. 14.
“I feel really good about haunted house. I think it’s going to be a great product,” Thompson said. “My current dilemma and challenge is I just don’t know how to convince people to go out to see it, because it’s not something like we’d normally hang up posters and it’s word of mouth. Well, nobody’s talking to each other that much, and nobody’s around to see the posters, and it’s not somewhere you go.”
Another show to look forward to is Much Ado About Nothing.
“In our Productions, we have a socially-distanced, outdoor production right now going on, which is completely new and different,” Thompson said. “All the rehearsals are outside, no one touches each other, they’re wearing masks for the majority of the performance, unless they’re far enough away, then they can pull their masks down or take it off, then say their line, and put it back on.”
The production Much Ado About Nothing might be held in a venue like the Botanical Gardens. The directors are hoping that will be a possibility.
“I think it would be really beautiful at the Botanical Gardens. They have a wonderful amphitheater, you bring your own lawn chair, you bring your own blanket, and you sit and watch Shakespeare in the park,” Thompson said.
Much Ado About Nothing will be a stepping stone to normalcy for theatre.
“I feel great about Much Ado About Nothing. It’s a return to live theatre, which is what we know, and what we love, and what we want to do,” Thompson said. “It’s going to be able to be performed in front of an audience, who’s actually going to be able to give feedback to the actors, which is so important.”
Thompson encourages anyone interested in theatre to join, even in different times.
“I guess, for people who are out there and looking for something to do, here we are. Everything looks different, but here we are. We’re still producing work, and it’s good work,” Thompson said. “As far as how I feel about everything, I feel really lucky to still be doing this thing I love to do with these students who also love to do it.”
Other information concerning theatre can be viewed on https://www.johnsontheatre.com/.