Fall Play and Fine Arts Courses Adapt During COVID-19


The fall play will be this weekend in a drive-through format.

The fall play is coming up in a drive-through format, several fine arts courses have been approved to return in person, and the fine arts department is working to make concerts and art shows virtual this year.

Dustin Helvie, head of the Fine Arts Department and director of Symphonic Winds, said the fine arts department has received approval to partially bring back several courses — AP 3D Portfolio, Glass Art, and Darkroom Photo — along with one ensemble from each discipline: band, choir, and orchestra. So far only a handful of extracurricular fine arts activities, such as marching band and the fall play, have been able to practice in person in some capacity.

The fall play, “A Love Letter,” will take place outside in the Studio Theatre parking lot on Sept. 25 and 26; the show starts at 6:30 p.m. each night. Theater director and teacher Christopher Thomas explained that the play is a collection of vignettes about love and relationships from “Almost, Maine” by John Cariani, “Tiny Beautiful Things” by Cheryl Strayed, “Our Town” by Thornton Wilder, and “Anxiety is Orange” by Lindsay Price.

“People wanting to see the show will purchase a ticket…for a carload…and they will drive through, kind of like a Christmas lights display,” said Mr. Helvie. 

Kevin Holly, the technical theater coordinator, explained that cars will stop at each scene and music will play to let people know to drive on. The crew began working in person on Sept. 14, and intends to light up an archway in the hopes that it will be visible as cars come around the side of the building. Two cars can be at each scene at a time, so 42 cars will be able to see the show each night.

Mr. Thomas said auditions were held virtually this year, and students who received a callback were able to come to campus to audition for roles. All rehearsals since have taken place on Zoom; the cast will have Sept. 23 and 24 to rehearse in person.

“I definitely like that I’m able to rehearse in my pajamas” said junior Priyanka Somani, who is in the scene “Yellow Roses” from “Anxiety is Orange.” “But…it’s especially tricky because blocking is really hard to figure out when you’re not in person…you have to keep figuring out where everyone is going, and how they’re going to that place, all on paper rather than like doing it in person.”

Mr. Thomas explained that “A Love Letter” was specifically chosen and assembled as the fall play since scenes are composed of only two or three people, so they are easy to rehearse in breakout rooms on Zoom. Normally, the fall performance would be a musical and would consist of scenes with a much larger cast. The theater program decided to flip this year’s schedule and save the musical for the spring in hopes they will have a better knowledge of how to adapt and perform safely at that time.

“I made the choice to double cast the show as well, so that the kids could perform…then take a break in between each set of cars that come,” said Mr. Thomas. “But the great thing about that was it also gave more students opportunities… like every single cast member has a lead in the show because every scene there’s two to three actors.”

The theater department is also looking into getting special masks for the cast that sit apart from the face to provide extra resonance when speaking. 

Mr. Helvie said the school has ordered similar masks for choir, as well as masks specialized for different instruments when students return to band in person. 

Mr. Helvie explained that one of the difficulties in bringing back band and choir is the aerosols dispersed when playing brass and woodwind instruments, such as the tuba or the flute, or when singing. When students return in person, plans are to hold rehearsals in a large space, and students will also have bell covers to trap the aerosols dispersed through those instruments. 

Instead of in person concerts to start the year, the fine arts department plans to have a virtual concert for fall semester. Jeffrey Brown, director of choirs, said via email that the music department is using a software called SoundTrap, which allows students to record their parts and collaborate on music projects. Parts will be compiled and edited together to create a virtual performance.

“The amount of time and effort it takes to put together a virtual ensemble or performance is herculean,” said Mr. Helvie. “Are they all playing with really good intonation? Are they playing in time, and trying to line up all of those parts together? So you can imagine it’s just a lot more technically challenging.”

Mr. Helvie also explained that students in 2D art courses received supplies at the beginning of the school year, but it has taken more time to get tools for courses like ceramics, glass art and jewelry cleaned up from last spring and packaged to send home. Glass art meets in person for the first time this week; the class is divided so each half will attend in person once a week. Tentative plans are to have students return for other approved in person art courses next week.