A New Mantra by Steven Calakos

A New Mantra by Steven Calakos

Anyone who has ever performed in a musical, play, recital or even a talent show knows how much work goes in to producing art for the public to enjoy. Entertaining the masses doesn’t happen overnight. There is the pre-planning stage where the creative and production teams gather and decide what the show will look, sound, and feel like to an audience. Then comes the rehearsal process where actors dive deeply into their roles, analyzing their characters and learning dialogue and choreography that drives the plot of the story. It’s work, and it challenges the imagination and creativity of everyone involved. Throw a global pandemic in the mix and your normal challenges have now been put into question. Health first, everything else follows.

This was our mantra for this summer’s STAR Academy musical production of The Addams Family and STAR Academy Cabaret: Songs from the Silver Screen. The administrative team at Gulfshore Playhouse endured months of planning for the safety of our students and staff. The question we asked ourselves was how can we safely and successfully produce on stage during a time when Broadway has shut its doors and almost every theatre company has turned to virtual programs? With lengthy conversations, attention to CDC guidelines, and understanding all risks involved, we established strict protocols for our students and staff to follow during the four weeks of our STAR Academy summer program.

Right side profile of a teenage male wearing a plastic face shield; his left arm is reaching upward and he is smiling.One important element, if not the most significant, that has made this entire rehearsal experience for our musical productions possible was the professionalism of our students. Each day, they arrived to rehearsal not only with the willingness to learn all things theatre, but also with the safety of their peers in mind. Face masks and face shields were worn at all times, with the exception of lunch. And even then, students sat at least 6 feet apart while they were given 30 minutes to relax and enjoy the fresh outdoor air. It should not go unmentioned that our students did not once complain about having to wear personal protective equipment, truthfully. Imagine having to learn music, choreography, and dialogue under the confines of a face mask or face shield. Think about the moments where students and directors need to emote and show expression on their faces, but can only do so with the obstruction of the masks. It’s challenging to the say the least. And yes, there were moments of frustration. However, our students understood that they are the first actors back on our stage after the world seemingly shut down. If that isn’t motivation, I don’t know what is.

 

In addition to wearing face masks and face shields, we structured the majority of rehearsals so that our cast of 17 students were split into small groups that consisted of no more than 9 students per group. Again, imagine learning a dance or choral music separately from the rest of the cast knowing at some point, you will join in full ranks and finally be able to see and hear what you’ve been rehearsing as a whole group. It’s beyond what anyone could have foreseen if ever we were to imagine a world in which we couldn’t sing, dance or act together. But this is our new normal, at least for now.

And so, the show will go on because we planned flawlessly and executed flexibly. It took many troubleshooting conversations and daily schedule changes to get where we needed to be at the end of four weeks. Our overall vision for STAR Academy came to fruition and we owe that to not only our creative and production teams, but also to our students who were faced with novel challenges and met them head on, with partially concealed faces and hearts full of passion and love for theatre.