Shakespeare under face shields: Area high schools keep theater plays despite coronavirus

Across the region high school theater departments aren't letting a global pandemic stop their performances. Students are adjusting, say school officials, by adopting coronavirus preventive measures including masks, face shields and lots of hand sanitizer. Instead of live audiences, schools are beaming plays out over the internet. Pictured is Hamilton High School's rehearsal for Romeo & Juliet. (Provided Photo\Journal-News)
Across the region high school theater departments aren't letting a global pandemic stop their performances. Students are adjusting, say school officials, by adopting coronavirus preventive measures including masks, face shields and lots of hand sanitizer. Instead of live audiences, schools are beaming plays out over the internet. Pictured is Hamilton High School's rehearsal for Romeo & Juliet. (Provided Photo\Journal-News)

Coming soon at Hamilton High School’s theater: Shakespeare’s “Romeo & Juliet” featuring not-so-welcome special guest appearances by face shields and masks.

And no in-person audience.

At Madison High School, it’s “Shrek the Musical Jr.,” rehearsed by students at social distancing and sometimes on video meetings with the production later scheduled for online streaming.

While at Badin High School, students postponed productions of “Arsenic and Old Lace” and “Seussical” to focus on simpler, online productions to be shown soon with fewer physical interactions between students. Rehearsals are briefer at 45 to 60 minutes, but plans continued to change.

“We then decided we would do shows that required minimal sets, since we can’t share tools or even props,” said Sarah Cline, theater teacher and director for Badin. “As a group, we decided to put on three one-act shows and stream them (online).”

Schools across the country have adapted to changes caused by the coronavirus, and some locally were delayed in returned to in-person classes following the winter break because of the level of spread. Among the activities that often requires close contact and lots of commitment are theater shows, so schools throughout the region have changed plans to allow their students to perform and participate in one of their favorite activities.

But performing theatrical plays during a pandemic has drawbacks, Cline said.

“We made minimal adaptations to how we used the microphones, such as placing the microphones outside the masks. We found that this cuts down on the breath noises and on the noise from the masks.”

Fairfield High School students put on an old-fashioned radio play earlier this school year as an alternative to an in-person performance.

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At Hamilton High School, drama director Sammy Haven said “Romeo & Juliet” rehearsals are very different compared to past years so parents, classmates and the public will eventually still be able to see teens perform but not by sitting in the school auditorium.

“Rehearsals for the winter play are in-person with extensive safety protocols in place to keep students healthy and well. However, we are not having an audience in-person during performances,” said Haven. “Rather, we are filming the show and it will be available on Drama Club’s YouTube account for people to watch for free.”

Online performances are very different from in-person, said Madison High School junior Chandler Zwaap.

And like most school routines during coronavirus, preparing for a play this winter is radically different.

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“It’s anything but normal,” said Zwaap, who is stage manager for one school play and an actress in another, both productions will be live-streamed.

The adjustments to coronavirus protocols made things “shaky at first,” she said, but soon students adjusted to masks, extra spacing for social distancing, sometimes even extending the performance beyond the stage.

“We have actors all over the theater not just on stage. But I miss the live audience a lot,” said Zwaap who performed in past years.

“There is just something about doing a play and having people there reacting and laughing.”

Cline agreed, saying at Badin “our biggest adjustment is no audience.”

“We live for the reaction of the audience. Audience reactions fuel our performances. Without that we try to anticipate reactions for our streamed audience, but we really miss that connection.”

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