Winslow High School drama students Ben McIntire, junior, front row center; Anna Lakey, junior, far left second row; Emily West, senior, far right second row, Miles McIntire, freshman, third row left center; Cassidy McIntire, senior, far left back, fourth row; and Kaylee Nadeau, senior, top right fourth row, at the school’s theater last Tuesday. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

WINSLOW — The auditorium stage is a blank grid. Tape marks where students can stand. Taped Xs on chairs makes it clear where they cannot sit.

The theater program at Winslow High School has a different look this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, but the students still appreciate the opportunity.

A total of 32 Winslow High School students are participating in after-school drama this fall, which will culminate in a staggered performance of “Box Steps,” by Alan Haehnel, on Nov. 21 and 22.

“We’re all just so grateful that we got to do something,” said Cassidy McIntire, a Winslow senior and co-president of the Winslow Thespian Society. “I think we would’ve put up with any guidelines to do theater.”

Parents and community members will live stream performances of “Box Steps.” Staff worked with Brooklyn Publishers to negotiate streaming rights. The streams will not be recorded, only shown live.

Winslow is among the local school districts that must adapt their theater programs this fall to stay within safety guidelines related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Per state guidelines, students are required to stand 14 feet apart when singing or playing instruments, and no more than 50 people may be in a room at a time.

In Winslow, students are alternating days of in-person and remote learning. Some are learning only remotely. Winslow normally does a fall musical, but singing safely indoors proved impossible.

Jenn McCowan, an English and theater teacher at Winslow High School, choral director Kris Vigue and life skills and special education instructor Art Meneses work together on the school’s productions. McIntire and classmate Emily West serve as co-presidents of the Winslow Thespian Society.

There is no singing this fall, and those involved with the program say that is one of the hardest parts. Vigue is teaching her chorus students piano and music theory during class times, but any sort of musical is out of the question.

“Our only option would be to sing outside, masked with 14 feet of distance,” Vigue said. “We’re not doing that. It’s hard to watch a video without chiming in. It’s hard when you’re able to articulate something through song and you can’t do it.”

As it stands, the current crop of students participating in after school drama this fall is about half the normal roster for a fall musical. Students signed a contract acknowledging they would follow strict coronavirus safety protocols, and they all are never together at the same time.

“This is not theater that we’re used to,” McCowan said.

Winslow High School teacher Jenn McCowan talks with students last Tuesday at the school’s theater. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

A HYBRID SHOW 

As Winslow continues classes in its hybrid model for the foreseeable future, theater follows suit.

The students in the fall performance are split into their cohorts for parts in the play. Groups of two or three are on stage for 10-minute segments. The only prop onset is a box. A donation from Fortin’s Home Furnishings in Winslow supplied enough boxes to have one for each of the 10 groups in the performance.

There are plenty of safety considerations on a daily basis. Masks never come off. Props and any items touched are constantly sanitized. During show week, costumes will go home with students instead of being stored at school.

As a stage manager and student leader, McIntire’s role is increasingly important. She is usually hands-on with her peers but has been relegated to mostly verbal instruction to keep her peers in line with safety precautions.

“There’s definitely more responsibility on my part because I’m supposed to be a leader and enforce that,” McIntire said. “You just kind of have to take a step back and watch.”

McIntire and West, the Thespian Society co-presidents, attend the rehearsals five days a week for up to three hours per session. In a normal world, there would be a Saturday rehearsal. Students who are doing their remote school day may come back for rehearsals, but the entire group is never in the auditorium at the same time.

“It’s a time where everything feels kind of normal, just with a mask,” West said.

A REDEMPTIVE PERFORMANCE 

West, who is considering acting school, was cast as Salamanca Tree Hiddle in “Walk Two Moons” last March. The day she found out, the play was canceled and students never came back to school.

“It was going to be big for me,” West said. “I had the lead, but it got taken away.”

“That was heartbreaking,” McCowan said.

As a member of the Maine Drama Council, McCowan took part in conversations all summer on how to safely continue theater in the fall. She poured over scripts to find the right show, and went before the school board with a proposal. It passed unanimously and without question.

“I probably read 18 scripts this summer, so I can’t even estimate the hours,” McCowan said.

Once the plan cleared, a physical remaking of the auditorium ensued. A taped grid system and a mandatory “two boxes apart” rule properly spaces the actors.

Students may only sit three seats apart, with every other row blocked off. The Winslow High School auditorium normally seats 210 in the audience for the typically sold-out fall musical, but the capacity is now 37. It is weird and different, but better than nothing.

“Knowing how quickly we can go away, we’re treasuring the time we’ve got and hoping it can continue,” McCowan said.

McCowan also teaches an introduction to theater class that begins next quarter. West is signed up as the student director for the class.

While West is pleased with the opportunity at hand, she still hopes things improve for her final high school show, in early 2021.

“I’m hoping by spring, it’s somewhat normal so we can have a musical,” West said. “If not, a play where we don’t have to be 6 feet apart. We’re just a group of fun-loving teenagers, you know.”

A recent, outdoor meeting of the Messalonskee High School Drama Club in Oakland. Photo courtesy of Julia Bard

AROUND THE REGION

Other area schools are getting creative, too. In Sidney, the Maine Arts Academy plans to host an outdoor, drive-thru recital Oct. 30.

Having the drive-thru recital allows parents and friends to attend the show in person and safely. Parents sign up for 30-minute slots. Groups may walk or drive through the campus.

Several performances are in the works, including band, dance and chorus, all of which will repeat the performance three times.

“All of the performances will be in different areas outside on our campus,” Head of School Heather King said. “I think they’re excited because we’re still putting arts first. We’re not allowing the pandemic to dampen our spirits, and we are finding ways to think outside the box.”

At Regional School Unit 18’s Messalonskee High School in Oakland, students have formed their own drama club.

“When we were going back to school, we were told that we weren’t going to have a play or drama program in the fall, and we didn’t want to not do anything, so me and a few other students pooled together a club that we can meet in,” said Julia Bard, a Messalonskee senior.

The club is meeting twice weekly outdoors. Participants are doing choreography and individual scene work. There are 15 students in the club, and they are recruiting more.

The club is looking to film a show or a compilation of individual acts to showcase talent.

“A lot of drama is building relationships and being close with people while making art together,” Bard said, “and that’s what we really want to maintain.”

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.