Woodson Drama Produces Virtual Play

December 20, 2020

Promotional poster with Jake Beland, Elizabeth Vichness, Rachel Furr and Sara Willcox. Photo courtesy of WTW Drama Club Instagram.

With the shift to virtual learning come many changes, especially to hands-on classes such as theater. Traditionally an engaging class filled with team activities, this year teachers have had to figure out a way to teach students how to give dramatic monologues, practice improvisation and work with theater lights all through computer screens using creative methods such as turning songs into monologues as a class, creating inspiration boards and holding practice sessions through Google Meets. Convinced that the show must go on, this year they have also had to figure out a way to showcase their talent, even if it means never actually getting on the stage.

Ms. Hobson, the theater and Theater Tech teacher, has had to shift the focus of her curriculum from a tactile learning environment to a more theoretical study of drama and technology while still allowing her students to take part in creative projects. 

“It’s difficult, you know… but it’s also given me an opportunity to learn new things. For example, in Theater Tech we’ve been learning how to use a lot of editing equipment and adding in sound effects for our virtual activities which wouldn’t happen in person,” Ms. Hobson said.

Hobson also works to keep the class fun and engaging for her students by assigning collaborative projects such as creating podcasts, turning Amazon reviews into dramatic monologues and writing short plays.

For sophomore Rachel Sper, “theater is one of those classes where you have to be in person to get the full experience,” expressing how she thinks the the theater department “has been doing a great job in trying to bring that virtually.”

She continues saying how they were just getting used to virtual learning in the beginning, but are now doing more things. For her podcast, for example, she “worked with other people in [her] class to write, record and edit a story about a group of friends who find a haunted VHS tape.” Sper says that “the process has been very rewarding.”

Senior Charles Woodberry, however, has had a different experience. “I’m actually really enjoying it so far and I think it’s going very well,” he said. “We play games every Thursday on Google Meets which has been fun and we also have Improv Fridays on Google Meets.” Recently, Woodberry says, eight schools in FCPS [including Woodson] did an Improv Jam session, and he expresses how he “liked working with the students from different schools.”

In Theater Tech, sophomore Anita Chip has been able to practice her skills by making shadow puppet plays and helping with the editing of the fall production War of the Worlds: The Panic Broadcast. 

“I’ve definitely learned a lot and it’s an amazing experience… in person or not,” Chip commented. 

Rachel Furr as Freddie Filmore. Screenshot by Carolyn Bonafede.

While theater classes have had to adapt to new styles of learning, the once-familiar process of making a theater production has been drastically altered by the lack of in-person meetings. Woodson Drama’s latest play, War of the Worlds: The Panic Broadcast, streamed on-demand Dec. 11-13 and consisted entirely of scenes recorded separately by cast members and pieced together by the theater techs. 

“We were given a green screen, a camera, a tripod and a ring light, and some of us got microphones, and you just stood in front of it and said your lines to a camera,” said senior Elizabeth Vichness, a theater student and War of the Worlds cast member. “I have so much respect for the editing team, because they [had] to put that together!” For actors’ costumes, costume manager Naomi Scully-Bristol had cast members search their homes for useful pieces and brought them any necessary items from the school costume closet.

Rehearsals for War of the Worlds were held over Google Meets and were infrequent compared to previous productions. Vichness mentioned that one “very fun” rehearsal included a mid-Atlantic dialect workshop, fitting for the play’s setting in the New Jersey area. Senior Sara Willcox, theater student and cast member, explained that limited rehearsal with the full cast resulted in a play that was “more independent than I’ve ever seen in a show.”

“It was a lot of guessing and hoping that you and your scene partner were going in the same direction,” said Willcox. 

Sara Willcox as Professor Pierson. Screenshot by Carolyn Bonafede.

Vichness described similar challenges with the virtual format. “A lot of [the play] is dialogue, and so much of acting is listening to your scene partner and reacting,” she said. “That’s something you don’t get in this scenario, and it definitely makes it harder.”

However, the actors were still able to enjoy producing the show.

“The entire play is about actors putting on a rendition of people putting on a rendition of War of the Worlds,” Vichness explained. “War of the Worlds is such fun, such a captivating story; there’s so much of, ‘did this happen, did it not happen.’” As the Studio Announcer, she said, “a lot of [my] lines from War of the Worlds are so iconic, which are fun to say.”

Willcox, who played “an actor who plays Professor Pierson,” described the character as “the unhinged academic who documents” the chaotic aftermath of the alien landing in the War of the Worlds story. “I really enjoyed at the end when Professor Pierson was describing what was going on [in the world],” she said. “It was almost like narrating an audiobook.”

For Willcox, the most meaningful moment of the play was “the scene where Professor Pierson interacts with The Stranger… [Pierson] is wandering through this wasteland and encounters another person and they have a really interesting conversation.” 

“Even though we can’t be in-person, I still get to see my lovely friends every time we meet for rehearsal,” said Willcox. “It’s not the same kind of fun, but it’s a safe kind of fun.”

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