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No pause - just applause - for D214 Theater

No pause - just lots of applause - for innovative D214 theater

In March 2020, Broadway and local productions alike were forced to shut down in response to COVID-19 to protect audience members, crew members and performers. While theater has yet to return to District 214 in its original form, D214’s theater departments have taken advantage of unconventional platforms to encourage artistic expression.

“I’m really proud of District 214 and how we are working together to find ways to let our students continue on this path,” D214 Fine Arts Coordinator and Prospect High School theater director Jeremy Morton said. “We’re not being paused—we’re moving forward and growing through this experience rather than because of it.”

Buffalo Grove High School began the school year with an outdoor production of “Love/Sick.” The technical crew installed a stage on the school’s football field, and the cast performed for a socially distanced audience in the bleachers. According to BGHS senior Samantha Macauley, the cast practiced safety precautions such as virtual rehearsals and staying socially distanced while onstage.

“What worked was being outside,” Macauley said. “It made it more real because we were able to have an audience. I think that was a great scenario.”

Elk Grove High School took a similar approach during the fall, performing an original adaptation of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” on its football field.

“The biggest challenge besides weather was moving all of our sound equipment outside,” EGHS theater director Chuck Cavazos said. “Our technical crew set up sound equipment so our audience could hear. Somehow it worked, and they were able to hear the kids even though it was windy and rained one day.”

Buffalo Grove and Elk Grove also tackled virtual productions in the winter, putting on a radio show and student-directed one-act plays, respectively.

Rolling Meadows High School created three productions during its first semester: a comedic adaptation of “Romeo and Juliet,” a radio play featuring horror stories and an original piece. While “Romeo and Juliet” and the devised piece were fully virtual, the radio play was filmed in-person while socially distanced. Students, parents and community members were invited to view it in a drive-in setting.

“I didn’t expect to have as many shows as we did, but we accomplished that online, which was amazing,” Rolling Meadows senior Mary Anne Wlodyga said. “The way that we were able to do so many different pieces with so many different actors and forms of media blew my mind.”

The variety of media also offered new opportunities for the technical crew. According to Rolling Meadows senior Stella Frangiadakis, she utilized editing software on her computer, gaining new experiences and knowledge.

“I was excited because I love audio and visual editing,” Frangiadakis said. “That was something I could tap into and use my skills.”

Wheeling High School filmed a fall “movie” titled “Scenes With John Hughes.” The cast re-enacted famous scenes from John Hughes’ movies in-person using safety precautions such as masks.

“My technical director has learned so much from the fall movie,” Wheeling Fine Arts Coordinator Stephen Colella said. “We’re going to add more cameras and use our drones when shooting [the spring musical] outside. We’re excited to move forward because we’re not going to let this hinder us anymore.”

Similarly, John Hersey High School filmed a fall production of “The Laramie Project.” Hersey also holds weekly virtual improv club meetings. According to Hersey freshman Elana Brush, these meetings helped her bond with her school’s theater community as an underclassman.

“It’s such a friendly environment,” Brush said. “It’s a great way to connect with your community and your school, and the Hersey program is so welcoming and helpful.”

Prospect High School performed a live scene from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and live streamed a virtual production of “Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind.” Prospect students also produced a virtual radio show comprising stand-alone plays. The technical crew was offered opportunities to edit the videos from “Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind” and the radio show, providing a well-rounded experience.

“At the end of the day, sure, you’re not physically with the people, but you’re still talking, acting and laughing with them,” Prospect junior Daniel White said. “It’s definitely still worth it.”

In the face of ongoing COVID-19 restrictions, D214’s theater departments exhibited consistent creativity and innovation. They found ways to connect students while creating art, ultimately rising above conflict and stimulating growth. Take a look at this student-produced video for a glimpse of what that looked like across the District.

“Difficult things are happening,” Morton said. “It’s amazing to watch the adversities being overcome. I’m proud of our students and staff members at Prospect and throughout the District.”

Contributor’s note: Buffalo Grove High School senior Zoey Heinrich and Rolling Meadows High School senior Emma Wozniak produced this story as part of a Multimedia Communications internship with District 214’s Community Engagement and Outreach team. While Zoey and Emma collaborated extensively throughout the process, Zoey wrote this story and Emma produced the accompanying video.