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The Shows Must Go On


Earlier this month, theatre students from Jurupa Valley High School and Patriot High School debuted their versions of the play, “The Internet is a Distract - OH LOOK A KITTEN!” by Ian McWethy. The recorded performances were available to watch via Broadway On Demand, a theatre-based streaming service.

screenshot of actress wearing cat earsThe comedy was the third virtual production for both high schools. Though unusual for two high schools in the same district to put on the same production, theatre teachers Juana Rodriguez (Patriot High) and Helena Shaer (Jurupa Valley High) have been collaborating to give students the best possible distance learning experience. 

The collaboration first began last spring, when the teachers realized their productions could no longer happen as planned. Disheartened but not defeated, Ms. Rodriguez and Ms. Shaer decided to do a collaborative, virtual production so their students would have the chance to express themselves and showcase their skills. The pair auditioned and cast students from both schools for the play, “10 Ways to Survive Life In a Quarantine” by Don Zolidis.

“It was a very difficult and new process, but it was great to see how dedicated our students were and how much they really wanted to participate,” shared Ms. Rodriguez.

Juana Rodriguez and Helena Shaer sit in different theatre rows in the PHS theatreHaving formed a close bond, Ms. Rodriguez and Ms. Shaer decided to continue their collaboration. Anticipating distance learning as the educational format for the 2020/2021 school year, they participated in professional development and read through scripts written or adapted for virtual production. Then they worked on their lesson plans together. 

As a result, students are learning how to act for the camera rather than the stage. Instead of making their actions and voices big enough for a large audience, student actors are adapting to a closer range and a single camera while still communicating their characters effectively through expression, voice, and movement. There are also challenges with regards to timing. Recordings are done individually, so actors must leave space in between lines for other performers in the scene.

“A lot of our process is having them film multiple takes with multiple angles, different lighting and costumes, then giving feedback,” said Ms. Shaer, though she acknowledged that her students are “a lot better at camera stuff than we give them credit for.” She believes platforms such as TikTok and YouTube have prepared them for virtual theatre.

actor in clown costume holding a puppetStudents chose “Help Desk,” another play by Don Zolidis, as their second virtual production. The script invited changes to elements such as costumes and lighting, resulting in unique, student-driven footage. Two schools performing the same play meant that actors with the same role could reach out and learn from each other. 

“None of us get to see each other [in person] anymore,” shared Lorenzo, a PHS theatre student. “[Virtual productions] are a way to still do things together, still be a theatre family, and put on great shows for others.”

Proud of what they have accomplished thus far, JUSD theatre students are excited for what comes next. Possible projects include radio dramas, podcasts, and a more intensive collaboration where students from both high schools develop scripts then swap to produce each other’s work.

“Theatre is resilient,” stated Ms. Rodriguez. “It’s an institution that’s been around since the beginning of mankind that is constantly in trouble but somehow continues to thrive even now. Our students are very resilient and they are willing to share their love of theatre in many different ways."

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