The Show Must Go on, So Thespians Do Too

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A screenshot from the all-virtual cabaret put together by Thespians through pre-recorded videos, uploaded on Youtube on June 13, 2020. Madeleine Christopher as Eponine, Pheona Mulley as Madame Thenardier, Tynan Butler as Jean ValJean, and Ashwin Godura as Thénardier sing “One Day More,” the finale of the first act of Les Misérables.

Elisa Edgar, Assistant Opinion Editor

As Thespians relocated their performances from concert halls to Chromebooks, performing arts at State High have adopted a whole new meaning to “the show must go on.” After switching to an online format due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Thespians have faced both the benefits and drawbacks that virtual performances will hold for them. This year, theater at State High will take on a task that may have seemed insurmountable before COVID-19 entered the stage. 

When the musical Les Misérables was canceled last spring, actors, dancers, crew, and every member of the production was left in free-fall. Instead of the musical, Thespians managed to complete a virtual live stream of a cabaret performance, which was led by the club’s seniors. A cabaret, unlike a full musical, creates a medley of performances that don’t have a continuous plot or characters. This fall, they will be holding a fully virtual production of the show Spoon River Anthology. Contrarily, their plan for the spring is up in the air and undecided– like the majority of 2020.

The absence of in-person performing arts resulted in far more than the cancellation of just one show. Many found a safe place in Thespians that couldn’t be matched anywhere else in State High.

“Really, it’s the people,” said Isabelle Snyder, a senior at State High. She is also a State Thespian officer, chair of the International Thespian Officer Board, and president of their troupe. She explained her fondness for the group, “I love those people with my whole heart. It’s a place with so much laughter and a place that I consider to be my second family. I think we as a troupe have really seen each other at our worst and at our best and at all of our times in between, just because through the process of staging these productions we see each other so, so much. To know so many people on such a genuine level is something special, and something that I’ve only found in the Thespians community.”

Madeleine Christopher, a sophomore entering her second year of Thespians, was cast as Eponine in Les Misérables last spring. When she realized that the school shut down would be larger than expected, her reaction was mixed. 

“At first, I was really upset, but then I thought about how I’m not the only person that’s losing things,” said Christopher. “I am really lucky that I’m not losing family members, or close friends. And so I was able to kind of take a step back, and when I looked at it from the bigger picture, that was really helpful to me.” 

However, switching to an online format is not a complete loss. State-wide conferences being virtual this year can reduce some inequalities. Online rehearsals get rid of the obstructions, like price, that stop many students from joining. 

“It’s a really exciting opportunity for us to increase our accessibility state-wide, and elect students who haven’t traditionally been able to afford our conferences because cost can be a barrier, travel can be a barrier, and you often have to have a very established financially stable troupe situation in order to be able to attend,” Snyder said.

Performing arts can be extremely difficult to take part in without an economic advantage. Beyond high school, the sheer cost of dance lessons, singing lessons, headshots, voice coaches, and more, all pile up to a steep price. Since high school is a fundamental way that many adolescents find their career path, reducing inaccessibility is vital. Though Zoom is not the preferred path, it could be a path that opens a new world for countless students.  

Besides online options, in-person theater outside of State High managed to make an appearance over this summer and fall. Singing On Stage, a performing arts theater and family run business in State College, has been holding socially distanced rehearsals outside. The groups tend to be about fifteen students, much smaller compared to Thespian casts that can include up to forty students. They sit in chairs spaced 6 feet apart, and take breaks every twenty minutes or so to avoid staying in the same air space for too long. After the singing ends, masks stay on and everyone stays socially distanced. This type of set-up could potentially be mimicked by Thespians later this year if a small cast were to rehearse in the outdoor amphitheater at State High.

The lengths at which Thespians will go to have a safe production can be explained by how theater can be such a positive outlet for adults and teens alike. 

“I’ve found that performing, and becoming a character, is really good for your own character,” Christopher said. “You are able to deeply empathize with the person whose shoes you’re stepping into, and that’s a really important skill, not only as an actor, but also just as a human being.” 

The arts present a unique opportunity to improve yourself as a human being, a form of self-care like no other. 

“COVID or no COVID, it’s something that has always really helped me,” Snyder said. “Thespians and theater as a whole is where I kind of learned the power of my own voice, and that I could speak up and that I could be myself.” 

A study done from 2015-2017 by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing (APPGAHW) shows how powerfully the arts can promote mental health and well being. They can even reduce hospitalizations when prescribing arts activities to patients.

Mental health benefits, skill-improvement, and a community of support can all be found at State High Thespians. With lower costs this year, and a COVID-safe experience, almost anyone could join and find their place. Thespians accept new members all year round, but recommends getting involved in the fall to begin community-building. Monday, Sep. 14, will be an all-virtual membership meeting, and the link to join their Zoom meetings can be found on the website for State High Thespians. Whether they’re faced with a late curtain call or a poor wifi connection, theater at State High remains to see another year of performances. 

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