The Show Must Go On

The Libertyville High School theater program is currently working on bringing its annual musical to the stage while abiding by Covid-19 health and safety restrictions. This year’s “Shrek: The Musical” faces numerous complications for rehearsing and performing due to the requirements of social distancing and limited group sizes. No matter these extra challenges, the cast, crew, and directors are all actively making efforts to keep the show on.

To make performing possible, the show will have an entirely different look this year. To begin with, there will be no live audience, no distinct performance day and no live singing. 

Instead, the plan is to record the show to create a film. Theater teacher and musical director Christopher Thomas explained that they have “set up a recording schedule that begins March 31 and runs through April 17,” where they will record every three days and “each of those days has a number of between one to four scenes.” Additionally, scenes will be recorded out of order based off of actors, makeup demands and set design, in order to minimize the number of people present. 

Although filming is in person, all music will be pre-recorded by the pit orchestra and all singing will be pre-recorded by the cast for safety. Mr. Thomas explained that the Studio Theater will be used as the vocal recording space and Eli Kelly, a member of the information technology department, will be editing the instrumentals and vocals together. These recordings will then be played as the soundtrack during the actual run of the show to which the cast will lip synch behind their masks. Not only does this allow for the cast to safely share the stage, but Senior Ty Holzworth, who will be playing the title role of Shrek, explained that this will additionally ensure “the richest quality of music and acting at the same time” for the circumstances. 

While the cast will be masked, they will still be wearing microphones, leaving their acting and speaking lines to be captured directly by the filming. 

While Covid-19 has enforced strict limitations on performing, Holzworth has been able to identify some benefits from their adapted method of filming. He explained that due to the extended timeline, the crew will be able to create more complex sets that would normally be too challenging to handle within a continuous, live show. Additionally, unlike the auditorium, there is no limitation of seats for a film and Holzworth is hopeful that “just as many or maybe more people” will be able to view their work.

The show will be released the second weekend of May and tickets will be available through LHS’s online streaming service. 

This year’s differences don’t stop at the performance though, as the behind the scenes of the musical, such as rehearsals, have also faced multitudes of adaptations. Holzworth has been a part of the theater program for the entirety of his high school career and explained how the current rehearsal process compares to previous years. For example, blocking, which is setting the cast members’ positions on stage, is typically done directly on the auditorium stage but is currently being worked out over Zoom. 

Holzworth shared that blocking now relies “on drawing it out and looking at pictures” and added that “it’s a really different experience, and it’s a lot more difficult to picture with your imagination where everyone else is on stage.” 

Zoom rehearsals have not only created a reliance on imagination but have also left rehearsals vulnerable to the threat of inconsistent internet connection. Senior Lucia Loffredo, who will be playing the role of Donkey, expressed how frustrating dealing with poor internet has been.

 “It’s really difficult to go through a scene or learn your blocking or your music over a Zoom call when you cut out 24/7,” she explained. Holzworth described how weak internet has resulted in having to “start and stop over and over again for one scene.”

In order to account for this year’s unique conditions, the timeline for the rehearsal process has been extended. Mr.Thomas explained that what is typically “a nine-to-10 week process” had been stretched out over nearly five months. 

Despite the reliance on Zoom for blocking, the musical is not restricted to computer-based rehearsals. There are a multitude of rehearsals that go into the show and both singing and dancing rehearsals have transitioned to being in person. Jeff Brown, choir teacher and head of the musical’s vocals, described in an interview over email that this development has been much more productive and time-efficient. 

In order to follow safety precautions, Dr. Brown explained that dance is rehearsed “in small groups of 10 or less [students]” and vocal rehearsals have consisted of “10-12 or less [students] in the choir room and more than 12 [students] in the auditorium.”

While it has only happened twice, the entire cast has been able to vocally rehearse together. Dr. Brown explained that this was made possible by the size of the auditorium, as they split the cast between the stage and seats.

Aside from rehearsals, Covid-19 has also placed barriers on the formation of connections between the cast due to the requirements of physical separation and the restriction of group work. Loffredo shared that she struggles with this feeling as “[she] was really hoping to get to know freshmen and learn more about the sophomores [this year] but [hasn’t] been able to get to know them well.” She added that “luckily for some of [their] in-person rehearsals, [they’re] able to safely distance [themselves] and bond.” However, these rehearsals do not occur as often. 

Holzworth shared similar ideas, saying that normally, he would get to talk “with every cast member every day” but now his rehearsals are typically reserved for only him, Loffredo and senior Rachel Erdmann, who is playing Fiona. While rehearsals with his small group are most common, Holzworth explained that there have been days where more of the cast is able to come together. Holzworth described these days of seeing more of the cast as “really refreshing.”

“Whenever [the cast does] get to see each other, it always feels a little bit like a celebration of sorts,” Holzworth explained. 

Mr. Thomas expressed that forming connections between the cast has been aided by a variety of social events, such as a virtual theater festival, as well as the Stageplayers club, which is separate from the musical but involves many of Shrek’s cast members. In addition to these, he explained that simply doing the musical is a bonding experience, saying “bonding really is in the act of creating together.” 

In Mr. Thomas’s words, the best part about being able to do the musical this year is “keeping theater alive with [his] students.” He added that being able to “collaborate and create together amid these pandemic times is truly special”. Dr. Brown shared that the cast and crew feel fortunate they “are allowed to figure out a way to make it happen even if it’s different than a normal year.”