Gardiner Area High School students perform “Radium Girls,” which premiered Nov. 11 on a streaming website. Photo courtesy of Gardiner Area High School Drama Club

GARDINER — As is said, the show must go on.

And this is true at Gardiner Area High School, where students in the drama club received word in March they would be unable to stage their planned production of “The Princess Bride.”

Some students cried, others were unable to leave the stage, finding it difficult to admit they might not perform the final production of their high school acting careers because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The unexpected change prompted directors Christina Benedict and Nicholas Bucci to get creative: The show would still go on, but it would happen virtually. Those who had already bought tickets would be given a virtual link — two weeks after the original premiere date.

“We adapted and drove a good crowd,” Bucci said.

Performing the play via a virtual streaming service prepared students to stage “Twelve Angry Jurors” this past summer. And in November, the drama club performed “Radium Girls.” The students performed it in person from Nov. 11 to 14, and a recording of it was streamed on YouTube for those who had bought tickets.

Due to positive COVID-19 cases at the school and others having to quarantine, GAHS has since switched to a fully remote, “red” schedule, which will continue until at least Jan. 11.

While the move to fully remote learning took place after the play was staged, it still had to be adapted to meet coronavirus guidelines. The performers dealt with a variety of issues, including not being able to pass one another props or stand next to one another on stage.

“Kids signed onto the show knowing that they were going to be masked and socially distanced,” Benedict said. “Even when sitting in the theater, they can’t be huddled together or whispering. They have to be distanced.”

Gardiner’s creativity is ensuring the show would go on is not alone among area school districts. Hall-Dale and Winthrop High schools also have made adjustments.

Winthrop High School students rehearse over Zoom for their production of “Clue.” Image provided by Alexis Dascoulias

Winthrop will be staging “Clue” in the second week of January. Part of that production will be filmed in advance, while the rest will be recorded live and broadcast virtually.

Alexis Dascoulias, the program director, said recently the exact date of the premiere had yet to be decided. It will depend on a variety of factors, including potential coronavirus cases that might arise or technical difficulties with filming.

“We are doing a virtual production,” Dascoulias said. “We had to look at scrips that were available for streaming, and we chose the play based on that.”

Winthrop Public Schools are utilizing an in-person class schedule five days a week, and so far have only had one reported case of COVID-19.

Students, however, are still only able to rehearse in person one day a week. And virtual rehearsals can be challenging, Dascoulias said, especially when waiting for everyone to drive home or get off the bus. In addition, 10 members of the cast have chosen to be remote learners.

“When it’s a remote rehearsal, I have to wait for everyone to get home,” Dascoulias said. “It makes the schedule challenging.”

Since cast members will be home when the production is livestreamed, each performer must have his or her props at home, too.

“Instead of having one bowl of fruit that you pass around the table, you now have to have six that look the same,” Dascoulias said. “And you have to pretend to pass to one another (over video), and each person has to have it in front of them.”

The play will be uploaded to a website that will allow “audience members” to pay for a digital tickets.

This is similar to what Hall-Dale High School is doing for its planned spring production of the parody “Something Rotten!” The modern take on Shakespeare will be performed on stage and filmed, which will be streamed to the community in early April. People will buy tickets for the show, and will be given a digital streaming link to watch the production.

Auditions took place last week over Google Meet, according to co-director Deb Large.

“They can’t sing at school, but they can sing at home,” Large said. “It’s going to take twice as long to do the show.”

Large and co-director Mel Bills said they chose to begin play preparations earlier than normal this year to avoid possible snow days that might interfere with rehearsals or production nights.

Because Hall-Dale High School in Farmingdale, part of Regional School Unit 2, is utilizing a hybrid learning model, there are three in-person and two virtual rehearsal days each week. Large uses the virtual days to go over music with students.

HDHS’s drama program has run into the same issue other schools face when it comes to props and costumes.

Large, who will help sew costumes, said the cast only need be costumed from face to waist, and masks will be incorporated into costumes.

The play will be filmed with one camera in one take, according to Bills, rather than many cameras and cutaway scenes, like in a typical movie.

“We don’t want it to be a movie where you zoom into the main character and miss the actors in the background,” Bills said. “We want family members to see the background and be able to say, ‘That’s my girl and she’s going great.'”

As drama clubs across the area have become even more creative to support students, Bucci noted the programs’ importance to many performers.

“Theater is their second home,” he said. “Sports teams have their fields and their dugouts. We have the theater.”

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