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Summer 2020 in Review

It's me again, Smee the intern! I'm back with the same trench coat and ukulele, but I’ve swapped my favorite hat for my favorite mask this summer.

Boy, it’s been a while since the last blog update, hasn’t it? A whole crazy year has passed, so let’s go back a few months and review Stage Right’s summer in the time of Covid-19. This'll be a long post because we've got a lot to review!

Prior to Pennsylvania’s reopening in June, Stage Right was teaching classes and rehearsals virtually through Zoom. They also had pre-recorded Library Shows available for library groups to view. Once Westmoreland County entered the “green phase,” Stage Right figured out how to adapt in-person classes to the new restrictions and safety precautions. This included reduced class sizes, spacing students out to keep them socially distanced, checking each student and staff member’s temperature every day, practicing outside when possible, wearing masks, and thoroughly cleaning the studio at the end of each day.

Thanks to these safety measures, we were still able to hold several theatrical workshops and productions for our students this summer. These, of course, were very different from years past, but actors are resilient, and these students were able to adapt in order to safely do the thing they love: perform.

Let’s look at a recap of the student shows this summer, shall we?

Los Pequeñitos 1: “Zoom Zoo” (June 13)

This summer marks the second year of Maya Bhatnagar’s bilingual theatre workshop, “Los Pequeñitos” (or, “The Little Ones”). This week-long camp featured a cast of 5-to-9 year olds, with some in person and most attending virtually through Zoom. Learning a second language is difficult even without the added challenges of virtual learning and teachers wearing masks, but these kids were still able to learn colors, animals, and get to sing and dance in Spanish.

Plus, I got to be a penguin.

End of the Year Productions: “Tink!” and “High School Musical Jr.” (June 26–28)

End of the Year shows usually take place in May, at the end of the students’ regular schoolyears. However, due to Covid-19, these shows were pushed out to the end of June, so that the kids could rehearse together once it was safe to meet in person.

Tink! is an original Stage Right musical, first performed in 2015 and later at the New York Musical Festival in 2016. The teen production this summer is closest to the 2015 version. High School Musical Jr. is based on the popular Disney movie, adapted for young performers.

A scene from Tink!, where Tinkerbell meets the pirate James.

End of the Year Vocal Recital (June 30–July 1)

Instead of performing in person to a live audience, the 40 Stage Right students who participated recorded themselves singing from the comfort of their own homes. These videos sometimes included props and costumes, and were collected and broadcasted through Facebook to a live online audience over two evenings. The recital included songs from everything from Matilda to Beetlejuice, and all the teens and preteens put heart into their performances.

Arts in Education preteens: “Aladdin Jr.” (July 15–16)

The homeschooled preteens’ production of Aladdin Jr. was delayed until it was safe to put on in person. It took place at Irwin’s Lamp Theatre, to a socially distanced audience.

Like all the MTI Junior shows, “Aladdin Jr.” was adapted for young actors. Some of the ways it differs from the animated movie include added characters, such as Aladdin’s pals and Jasmine’s attendants.

Summer Camp: “Footloose” and “Descendants” (July 24–26)

Normally, Stage Right holds two summer camps, but as you can tell, things are different this year. To keep the students safe and ensure they could put on a full show amidst Covid-19 restrictions, some changes were made. Preteens met in the mornings from 9–12 and teens met in the afternoon from 1:30–4:30 to make sure the two groups didn’t mix. The camp lasted for four weeks instead of three, so that the students would have the time they needed to learn and rehearse their lines. The same in-person safety guidelines I mentioned earlier were applied as well.

Originally planned to perform at the WCCC Science Hall Auditorium, the shows instead took place at the Smail Auto Group Amphitheater in Hempfield Park—Stage Right’s very first outdoor production of full-length musicals!

I also had the pleasure of drawing caricatures of each kid in place of the usual headshots. During these (socially distanced) sessions, I got to learn more about the shows they were working so hard to put on.

Footloose is based on the ‘80s movie of the same name, telling the story of a teenager who moves from Chicago to a small southern town where dancing is illegal. The comedy and romance of this musical is paired with a surprising amount of emotion and serious themes, such as how to go on after losing a family member.

The dysfunctional family dynamics of the Moore family gives Footloose a more emotional side.

Descendants is based on the Disney franchise of the same name, a mix of the first and second movies. In this story, the children of all your favorite Disney characters take center stage. Four children descended from villains are allowed to attend school in Auradon, where the heroes and their children live. Full of pop music and fun costumes, the preteens really got to ham up their villainy and heroics in this show.

Maleficent encourages her reluctant daughter Mal to be more villainous.

Spectrum Theatre Camp: “This Is Our Story” (July 31)

Stage Right’s Spectrum Theatre Camp was specially formed to accommodate performers with autism and other special needs. This year, in place of a musical, the students put on a cabaret full of their favorite showtunes and original poetry. Each performer got to show their personality through their chosen act, to create a unique and very personal show. The show was performed outdoors at the St. Clair Park Amphitheater.

Stars of Tomorrow Camp: “Trolls! The Musical” (July 31)

Inspired by the popular movie, this camp of 4-to-7-year-olds played trolls, happy magical creatures with long hair on an adventure to avoid getting eaten by monsters! The kids got to sing, dance, and learn their lines, all from a safe distance from each other. Colored circles were placed on the dance floor six feet apart, so each kid got their own spot to practice. This show also took place at St. Clair Park.

Los Pequeñitos 2: “¿Quién lo Hizo?” (August 1)

The second round of Bhatnagar’s bilingual theatre camp hosted a cast of 10-to-15-year-olds who got to meet and rehearse in person. We worked together to write our own “whodunnit” mystery inspired by Spanish telenovelas and using Spanish vocabulary words. I got to team up with teen helper Joe Gongaware to play the accompaniment to the flamenco songs in this mini-musical! We performed outdoors under the tent in the Stage Right parking lot. We even got to frame our audience for the theft. (Ahahahahahaha)

Though it was a very busy summer full of new policies and safety measures, Stage Right got to offer its students as much normalcy and fun as we possibly could. By wearing masks, keeping their distance, practicing and performing outside, and keeping everything clean, these young actors were able to keep doing what they loved even during an uncertain time. Hopefully, if we all continue to take these safety measures, respect each other, and adapt to new creative solutions, theatre will come back to thrive like it did not so long ago.

I hope Stage Right was able to provide you a bit of joy this summer! As for me, the light is dimming and the dream is too, which probably means I gotta go tune my ukulele. Until next time!

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