As an experiment in keeping theater alive during the COVID-19 pandemic, the drama students of Perry County Central High School have been rehearsing for their first ever online play production to be held this weekend. The students will be performing Ian and Carrie McWethy's “Bad Auditions ... On Camera.”
Phil Neace, PCCHS theater director and drama teacher, said the school is currently going through their first grading period and that the advanced drama class earns their grade by putting on performances, so with no in-person classes they had to think of a way for those students to continue. At the beginning of the school year, classes were held virtually, so Neace said he began looking at online performance possibilities. Once they decided on the play of their choice, he said, they held online auditions and have been rehearsing for about three weeks now.
The process, said Neace, has been interesting for him and his students.
“The big challenge of this is when you have such a large class in a Google meeting to begin with, the signal is weaker the more people that are in it and that's what all the teachers are finding out,” said Neace. “It's so slow and so wonky. That's the thing that has been one of the negatives about doing it in this way.”
For the most part, Neace said, the students have been able to use the technology easily. However, this week, some of the students lost power due to the fire at the Fugate's Water Park and missed some of their rehearsals.
“We have to make sure our kids have the technology, and they usually do, but I am thinking at least two of those kids don't have internet because of the fire at Fugate's,” said Neace. “We've got to be able to figure out before Friday how to get 100 percent of them there.”
His students said the process was unique as well.
“For me, it's really out of my element honestly,” said Macey Moore, a junior drama student at PCCHS. “I really do miss the stage, I can't wait to get back.”
Isabella Skaggs, a senior drama student at PCCHS, said even though this is different than what they are used to, she still feels connected to her classmates.
“I think that it has unique (elements) that are definitely different than being on stage but I'm just glad to be doing something creative,” said Skaggs. “I was just a little nervous, because that's such an infectious energy to bring to the stage and have relationships with everyone as you know you're about to start a show for the first time, but I think it's felt oddly similar which I wasn't expecting it to feel like.”
Neace agreed, stating that the feeling of easiness was a surprise for him too.
“The big surprise in this is how more similar this kind of rehearsal is to being live on stage with me being out in the auditorium and them being up there (on stage) giving them directions,” said Neace.
One of the factors Neace said he feels contributed to this feeling is his decision to only cast students who have previously participated in his classes.
“We don't have any newcomers in this online production. I wanted to do this one, because it's my first time doing something like this, I wanted to only have students that I've already got a good relationship with and have already gone through my classes and who've already got experience,” said Neace. “That's been at least the best decision I've made in this.
“Based on this, when we do get back, we're actually going to attempt to do this play again but with a completely different cast of newcomers, of freshmen and sophomores beginning drama students,” he said. The students, said Neace, will do the performance virtually, but it will not be held at their houses, it will be on the PCCHS stage.
“It's a very new experience to watch a play done this way, but considering the new normal, this might be the way it is for a while,” said Neace.
The “virtual curtain” will open at 1:30 p.m., on Friday, Sept. 25, and the performance will begin at 1:45 p.m. The second show will be held at the same time on Monday, Sept. 28, to celebrate the final day of NTI classes and the return to in-person instruction. The performance will be live streamed via the PCCHS drama's new YouTube channel and will be held through a Google Meeting. To view the performance, visit, https://youtu.be/NPSbPd0AQeI at the times of the production.