Every year, dozens of elementary, middle, and high school students sign up for one of Scheck Hillel’s two annual musicals, one of which caters to lower school and the other to upper school. They audition in late August, rehearse for months, and finally present the play in late February or early March to a proud and delighted audience. Past plays include Once Upon a Mattress, James and the Giant Peach, and Into the Woods. However, not surprisingly, this year things will be much different due to COVID-19.
Since switching to online instruction in March, the school board has been working tirelessly to get its students back onto campus safely. However, when Covid cases began rising and Miami became the epicenter of the virus, Hillel had no choice but to keep its students learning through Zoom. This put a halt to other extracurricular activities such as athletics and could have also postponed the play. However, the famous saying “the show must go on” rings true for Hillel’s musical theater, despite these unprecedented and uncertain times.
This year’s upper school play is called The Internet is Distract–oh Look a Kitten! The story, originally written by Ian McWethy, tells of a young girl who needs to finish her book report but gets distracted by everything the internet has to offer. The play will be performed in November, so signing up requires less of a commitment for the students involved. Everything, from auditions to rehearsals to the actual performance of the play, is via Zoom. Noah Givner ‘21 gave the Roar Post some insight as to just how different it is.
“Usually the show is an extremely fun and satisfying experience where I feel like I am bonding with other people and also growing as an actor, not to mention the camaraderie on and off stage between everyone.” Noah continues, “though this year it’s pretty different. Because it’s digital, there is no real connection between everyone because we are not physically together. This year has been especially hard for the theatre because theatre is an art that thrives on human interaction and the connection between the cast. Not being able to really talk and interact with each other removes a very significant part of the theater as a whole. Over Zoom, theatre is just not the same because the connection between everyone is thin due to the nature of the program.”
Although some people like Givner find the lack of human interaction to be a setback, others consider it a perk. Public speaking and performing are daunting tasks. Many people, when standing onstage in front of an audience, can’t help but think of all the ways they can inadvertently embarrass themselves, which deviates their focus from what they’re trying to say or do. Performing over Zoom, where fewer faces are visible on one’s screen, is a lot less daunting for actors.
“This year is different from all others because, since there is a pandemic going around, we have to stay inside. This means we can’t do theater live in front of an audience. This may change how confident some people are when performing. They might not be as scared or nervous about acting. This is based on how I feel about it; I don’t feel as embarrassed to act as a different person in this play,” Jeremy Schonfeld ‘24, says. Indeed, performing a play over Zoom could take away a pretty big chunk of anxiety for aspiring actors, and it may cause people who want to act but are too scared to come out of their shell to finally bask in the spotlight.
Another perk of virtual musical theater is that it’s less of a commitment. Usually, the plays happen in February or March, so actors have to rehearse for five or six months out of the school year. Rehearsals on Zoom will last only two to three months, as the play will be performed in November. Additionally, sans internet lags and technical issues, joining Zoom rehearsals are much more efficient than running halfway across campus to get to the auditorium.
“It is easier on Zoom because it’s easy just to go into a Zoom room,” Schonfeld says. “If we were to be in person, rehearsals would take time to gather all the students.”
To conclude, musical theater this year will be, without a doubt, quite a diversion from previous years. While the lack of social interaction may be a turn-off for some people, aspiring actors and actresses who are also victims of stage fright and/or conflicting schedules will find this play as a great opportunity to enjoy the spotlight, as signing up is a short-term commitment since rehearsals will last only two months and performing via Zoom is a lot less harrowing than performing in front of a live audience.