The Show Must Go On! High School Actors Perform Shakespeare's Twelfth Night on Zoom
Each spring, under the direction of University City High School theater teacher Catherine Hopkins, UCHS Drama Club students present a Shakespeare classic. Last year, they performed "As You Like It" in the high school auditorium and invited the audience to sit amongst them onstage as they performed in an immersive, 1930's-inspired production set in a forest.
Hopkins had big plans this spring after spending part of last summer at the famed Globe Theatre in England studying innovative ways to engage students and new techniques to accessing Shakespeare's text in performance. This year, the students were getting ready to perform "Twelfth Night," a romantic comedy written in 1601. It was a lighter, gender-bending play written about 10 years after Shakespeare penned the tragedy, "Romeo and Juliet."
The students were hard at work in late February and early March bringing "Twelfth Night" to light, solidifying the comic timing and movement for each of the 25 scenes. Just before spring break, the cast of 15 were in their third week of full rehearsals. The actors left for vacation with the expectation of an opening night on April 24, 2020. But, as Shakespeare might put it, a pestilence descended on their plans in the form of COVID-19. (Indeed, there is some evidence that Shakespeare actually wrote King Lear while theaters were shuttered for several years during a plague.)
“Be not afraid of greatness."
― William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night
This did not stop Hopkins nor her students, because as we now know - "all the world's a stage." So, after spring break, the UCHS Drama Club troupe decided to go virtual - an option that Shakespeare never had. As the actors and the director became more proficient with technology through Distance Learning, they decided to perform the play entirely on Zoom. There were considerable readjustments. The actors would play their parts from their homes in front of their computer screens incorporating movement and "reacting" to their fellow castmates. Some used virtual backgrounds, others created the world of the play in their basements with innovative lighting techniques and there were numerous surprise appearances of family members and pets during the rehearsals. They would fashion their own costumes and props from what they had while sheltering in place. And they would perform it live in front of a Zoom audience. They had some inspiration from Saturday Night Live, which had done similar live broadcasts at the start of COVID-19.
Hopkins said the students' positive attitudes, flexibility with the changes, their new-found talents in working with a camera and personal commitment to the show were heroic. In addition to their curricular studies, the cast of freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors (for some of whom this was their very first performance and others who had more than 15 UCHS productions under their belts) dedicated 2-5 hours or more each week to rehearse together via Zoom. On Friday, May 15, they tackled their virtual stage fright, held virtual vocal and physical warmups, gave each other pep talks and senior speeches and then held their first-ever Zoom performance for an audience of about 50 excited guests. These happy few followed The Bard's directive to "Be great in act, as you have been in thought" and managed to make a little history of their own.
There were a few technical glitches. It took some time to piece the recording together. But the troupe and their director put on a phenomenal performance despite their challenges. The full recording of the Zoom play is at the top of this story. Congratulations to the troupe for its resilience and creativity.
The players and their roles:
- Viola - Lydia Thoroughman
- Sebastian - Cory Barber
- Lady Olivia - Mya Blanks
- Duke Orsino - Nathan Hill
- Sir Toby Belch - Karl Nelson
- Sir Andrew Aguecheek - Adam Holahan
- Maria - Jamya Richardson
- Feste - Kevin Worthy
- Malvolio - John Ruland
- Antonio - Beckett Wilke
- Fabian - Sebastian Gunter
- Captain/First Officer - Mia Robinson
- Juliet - Chloe Richardson
- Valentine - Ella Chisholm
- Curio - Sadie Malks
Director - Catherine Hopkins
Stage Manager - Julia Nelson
Poster Design - Ella Chisholm