The show must go on: How high school theater programs are adapting during pandemic



High school theater provides a bonding experience as intense as that of any sports team. It’s where young thespians find their tribe, kids who are as individualistic — and passionate about performing — as they are.

How have local theater departments adapted during a pandemic given that the art form relies so heavily on a live audience and requires such close physical contact?

In Kettering, both Alter and Fairmont high schools halted their spring musicals in mid-production in March as COVID-19 cases surged. Fairmont students did a single show of “Seussical,” while Alter thespians performed a dress rehearsal of “Once on this Island,” with only one parent permitted to attend.

“It just hurt,” said Madison D’Amico, who was cast as Mayzie in “Seussical.” “You put all this work and love and care and nurture into a show, and then you’re not able to share it.”

Seniors graduated, deprived of their swan song show. Younger students wondered when — or if — they would return to the stage.

“I tried to get rid of my expectations,” confessed D’Amico, now a senior. “That way, I wouldn’t be so disappointed.”

Luckily for Kettering students, their directors have brainstormed creative methods to provide a safe environment for performers and audiences alike. Both high schools are offering current productions that can be live-streamed from living rooms or watched from marked-off rows in a socially-distanced auditorium.

The Kettering Theatre Department is presenting its fall play, “Vintage Hitchcock: A Live Radio Play” this Friday and Saturday. Both performances can be streamed live or watched any time during the 24 hours after each show.

“We haven’t live-streamed a show before, and I love the online feature because family members and friends from out of town can see my show,” said Fairmont junior Andrew Hosford. “Even my Grandpa who lives with us can watch it at home.”

The Castle Players at Alter presented their fall play, the drama “Proof,” in a virtual format only — on-demand streaming Oct. 6-8 — as well as a student-written work, “Breaking the Fifth Wall: Theatre in a New Age,” with live performances Oct. 31-Nov. 1 and on-demand streaming Nov. 5-16.

Alter theater teacher Megan Wean Sears said the film version of “Proof” was born out of a question: “What can we do to create a sense of hope in these kids who are dying to share their passion?”

“Proof” was filmed outdoors, in a student’s back yard, and cast and crew were required to take COVID tests before shooting. “Proof was a wonderful way to explore a different realm, that of film, and to learn different jobs, such as how to hold a boom mic,” Sears said.

Alter junior Chloe Parker said she has an even deeper appreciation for live audiences after last weekend’s shows — even with numbers restricted to 35 ticket-holders. “I love performing before a live audience,” she said. “You feed off their energy and their laughter. There’s more of a raw reaction, even with just 35 people.”

Fairmont’s 900-seat auditorium can accommodate 139 audience members, in accordance with state guidelines permitting 15-percent occupancy. People will be seated in every other row, with at least two seats between each family group.

Director Ryan Lamb, an English teacher at Fairmont, said that “Vintage Hitchcock” — simulating a live broadcast from radio’s golden era — was the perfect vehicle for COVID-safe rehearsals. “Because it’s a radio play, the actors don’t come into physical contact, and we can space the microphones apart,” Lamb said. “There’s no stage combat — all of the fighting and romance is done with sound effects.”

Lamb was impressed by the students' compliance with the safety guidelines, especially since they haven’t been together since mid-March. (Kettering City Schools are still doing remote learning.) “I was a little nervous,” Lamb said. “Bringing together 13 teenagers and telling them to stay apart seemed counterintuitive. But they were so excited to be doing a show that they have been very cooperative.”

What used to be a twice-annual ritual — the fall and spring plays — now seems akin to a miracle to these young actors.

“You don’t recognize the opportunity and the privilege that you have until you don’t have it anymore,” Parker said. “It’s a lot different, but we are still so grateful.”

Observed Hosford, “The people in this cast are so kind and caring, and they want each person in the cast to succeed on that stage. In the midst of all this sadness, you’ve got this amazing group of talented students who are striving to do their best at practice and at the performances.”

Hosford was impressed with the pandemic protocols, from socially distanced rehearsal chairs to personal microphones that are sanitized after each use. At performances this weekend, audience members will be required to wear masks at all times.

D’Amico played Belle in last year’s production of “Beauty and the Beast” that inaugurated Fairmont’s new auditorium. She’s thrilled to be back on stage, playing the role of Pamela Stewart in “Vintage Hitchcock.”

“It’s hard and different and weird at times, but I think it will turn out well,” she said.

When it was announced that Alter’s Castle Players would perform “Beyond the Fifth Wall,” students were incredulous at first, Sears said, asking her, “You’re going to be able to perform — in front of people?”

It’s a joy her students may never take for granted again. “We are a faith-filled group, and before our shows, we pray and express how grateful we truly are to live in the moment, and to live in the moment we are in,” Sears said.

How to go or watch

What: Alter High School’s production the student-written “Breaking the Fifth Wall”

When: Available to live-stream Nov. 5-16 at

More info:

What: Fairmont’s production of “Vintage Hitchcock”

Where: The auditorium at 3301 Shroyer Road

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 6 and Saturday, Nov. 7

Tickets: $12 for adults and $10 for students and seniors. Call 937-499-2647 to reserve tickets.

Live-stream: Performances are available on demand for 24 hours after each show at

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