WHHS Theatre Department overcomes remote learning hurdles

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Abby Jay

Theatre department chair, Michael Sherman, advises students during a rehearsal for the fall production of 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.' This spring, Sherman had to cancel the junior high musical, 'Hairspray Jr.,' due to COVID-19. “It's the first time I've ever had to do it in my 12 years teaching theater, but, you know, these are extraordinary circumstances,” Sherman said.

The recent upheaval of the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the high school experience for all WHHS students, especially those in the Theatre Department. In these times of trying circumstances, students and teachers alike have taken the lead to save what they can of the theatre season and find constructive ways to learn off the stage.

“It’s definitely a learning curve that you have to get used to,” SENIOR Piper Johnson said.

Currently, the Theatre Department continues to push ahead with the production of the Senior High play, A Doll’s House. The production had made significant progress before school was closed, and department leaders are still hopeful that the play can run in some form. However, the department has yet to give any details as this is a fluid situation with massive logistical concerns.

It’s definitely a learning curve that you have to get used to”

— SENIOR Piper Johnson

The other spring production is the Junior High production Hairspray.  Away from school, students had found creative ways to continue prepping for the performance. The musical’s choreographer SENIOR Joanna Acio-Alele exemplifies this best in how she reaches out to the actors.

“I’ve been mainly recording videos of the dances that I have and then spending them,” Acio-Alele said.

Unlike A Doll’s House, Hairspray was not as far along in the production process, making a future for the musical unworkable. One of the hardest decisions department chair Michael Sherman and other department leaders have made was canceling the Junior High production. 

This is undoubtedly a tough time for those involved in the production, especially for Sherman.  “It’s the first time I’ve ever had to do it in my 12 years teaching theater, but, you know, these are extraordinary circumstances,” Sherman said.  

In this moment of sacrifice, the Hairspray Jr. cast came together for one last hurrah.  The cast sings “I Know Where I’ve Been,” a song from the musical, in a video posted on YouTube. The video already has thousands of views. It is a tribute to the effort so many junior high and freshmen actors have put into this performance and a reminder of the talent sure to be hitting the stage in the coming years.

Despite the tough decisions that have been made, resilience in times of crisis has led to many interesting solutions in terms of the department’s classes.

The school already faces a plethora of challenges during this pandemic, but the Theatre Department curriculum provides a particularly difficult challenge. Classes such as Sherman’s Advanced Theatre class and Introduction to Stagecraft are adapting in inventive ways to continue class.  

The Advanced Theatre class was originally scheduled to culminate with a presentation at Memorial Hall for the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s Project 38. Due to the recent concern over COVID-19, “we are planning on making it into a movie version where everyone records their lines, and Mr. Sherman is going to piece it together for us and make it into a movie,” class member Nia Stefanov, ‘22, said. This exciting new project may not be what the students originally expected, but the project emphasizes the department’s will to push forward.

Similarly, Introduction to Stagecraft is being reimagined. The course now involves students learning from home without the tools that the scene shop provides. “Mr. Sherman has been sending us little videos on the different aspects of technical theatre,” Johnson said, as creating class through programs like ZOOM and Google Meet does not suffice given the hands-on nature of Stagecraft.

The department and its students remain hopeful despite the school closure through the end of the year. Especially for the SENIORS, this time has been difficult as years of work have come to an end that is not how most envisioned leaving WHHS. Nonetheless, with the adjustments the department has already made, it is obvious that whether it is on the stage, in the costuming shop, or now working from home, WHHS students are still up for the challenge.