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The Show Must Go On: Inter Ac Virtual Productions

Back in March, high schools around the country were forced to suspend all in-person spring productions and events due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Theater seemed at risk of removal from schools’ priority lists as health and safety became the greatest concerns, but drama departments at Inter-Ac schools refused to let the performing arts die out. Read on to discover their innovative ideas for safe theater this year.

Virtual, masked, socially distant. All proposals for how schools’ performing arts programs might operate in the 2020-21 school year. At the beginning of this pandemic, many doubted that such proposals were possible, but several Inter Ac schools are proving the adaptability of theater as they organize activities, events, initiatives, and even productions, while still adhering to safety guidelines.

For instance, my school, The Agnes Irwin School in Bryn Mawr, PA, has given its high school students the opportunity to learn and practice various elements of performance through a virtual workshop series. The workshops are led by Agnes Irwin’s Repertory Company and Arts Council along with outside theater organization Broadway Weekends, and they include synchronous Zoom classes and activities surrounding improvisation, choreography, stage magic, and more! The best part? No prior experience or training is required to attend the sessions- all theater enthusiasts in the Upper School are welcome!

Additionally, November 20 was the premier of Agnes Irwin’s virtual production of Help Desk, a vignette play in which customer service calls bring on a series of farcical scenarios and contretemps. Actors performed and audience members watched through Zoom, but the cast and crew took every step to effectively simulate the experience of an in-person show; performers wore student-designed costumes, made use of props they had in their homes -- one actress even held her cat up to the camera at one point -- and acted to the accompaniment of various ambient sounds, like a light buzzing in the background of one particularly unbelievable scene. The show was a resounding success, the consensus among faculty and students being that its cast “made magic” on the virtual stage, in spite of certain technological constraints, and brought the AIS community a much needed sliver of normalcy.

Other Main Line theater departments have developed similar pandemic-workarounds; Episcopal Academy’s Domino Club, for example, produced Qui Nguyen’s play She Kills Monsters: Virtual Realms on November 12, an “online theatrical experience” that took viewers on a thrilling comedic journey and allowed students to hoan technical skills like film composition and editing (EA website).

Malvern Prep’s Theater Society virtually produced War of the Worlds on October 30 and will be bringing A Christmas Carol to life this December, and Penn Charter’s Upper School is even creating a video series for all fives acts of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the first part of which is now available to watch on the school’s website.

2020 has certainly had its challenges, but Inter Ac schools were able to successfully revive and maintain safe community theater. Because of their strict enforcement of safety regulations this fall, many will likely be able to host on-campus events in the spring, a very exciting prospect for performers and theatergoers alike. Even if only virtual shows are possible until next school year, though, one thing is certain: Inter Ac schools won’t let anything stop them from enjoying and promoting the performing arts. After all, the show must go on!


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