Senior Nicholas Woods, who plays Wadsworth, the butler, in Clue: Stay at Home Version, picks up his props and supplies from the high school for performing in the OPRFHS production.

There is no compromise for COVID. With a full season of shows planned for Oak Park and River Forest High School students involved with theater, some aspects of the craft have been adapted while the program is as robust as ever.   

“Theater is on,” said Michelle Bayer, performing arts department chair and teacher. “For some of our theater kids… this is why they come to school, this is why they engage and we did not want to take that away from them when they lost so much second semester [2020].” 

As soon as school shut down due to COVID, Bayer and the Theatre Department faculty and staff, including Teslen Sadowski, Linda Burns and Ixtla Arceo-Witzl, began planning.

“We saw what the kids reacted to with the loss of theater in their lives and this life of uncertainty,” Bayer said. “We were like, ‘We have to be on this. We have to have a plan.’ So we met constantly from March through May and even over the summer many times to discuss what we were going to do.”  

The result of their plan includes three options to execute a full theater season depending on whether school is being held in-person, virtually or a hybrid of the two; fall semester shows are being done completely virtually. For the school year, there are four student directed plays (previously referred to as Studio 200), four main stage shows and a spring musical. Drama Club and stage crew has also continued. 

The first play, which runs virtually this weekend, is the comedy whodunit Clue: Stay-At-Home Version. Auditions were held virtually and 12 student actors play the parts from Colonel Mustard to Miss Scarlet. 

“I was surprised how much I could evaluate via Zoom – I was worried,” Bayer said. “…but I cast a lot of newbies into roles who never performed before on our stages.”

Stage crew is working on productions in different ways. Scenic artists are designing virtual backdrops instead of physical ones. Other students are finding and creating sound effects and one is writing music for Clue. Bayer calls the sound “highly complex” for this play. 

The props crew is working from home making props. For a scene that several actors are sitting around a dining room table, a props student made small tablecloths with matching fabric for each student actor to have at home so it looks like they are all in one place as the scene takes place in the virtual play. Another props student made skeleton keys at home. There are also boxes, which will contain weapons, that were painted by another student to look like matching presents. 

When it comes to hair and makeup, the actors had to learn new skills instead of having this done for them on site before a performance. Bayer said [hair and makeup artist] Patricia Cheney had a three-hour Zoom session with the students to go over how to execute this craft. This included learning how to apply a mustache, how to apply makeup to look older and how to fix hair for Clue. 

All the items – props, costumes, hair and makeup items – were put together in individualized boxes for the student actor to pick up at designated times from school the Friday before tech week, when actors will rehearse with created backgrounds, props and in costume.

The play will livestream to audiences on Friday and Saturday night. The school has absorbed the licensing fee to make viewing affordable. There is a $2.95 fee to cover the streaming service.    

Next up is a student directed play the following weekend, A Thirties Affair, also available through livestreaming. In December, the student directed show is Horse Girls and the mainstage show is It’s a Wonderful Life, a Radio Play. 

“The kids are so excited that they can be part of something that isn’t just academics, that they can share their art,” Bayer said. “Also, for a lot of the kids, they are prepping to go to college to major in theater or minoring in theater, so having that [potential] gap in their resume was really stressful.”     

The annual spring musical is a high-quality production that is enjoyed by much of the community. It is a large production with an ensemble involving many OPRF students and a pit orchestra. The plan for 2021 is no different, according to Bayer. While the school is still securing licensing to the show, Bayer said it is ensemble-based and involves 14 or 15 leads. They will again have a pit orchestra to involve students in instrumental music. “It is a perfect show for this time for lots of kids to have opportunities and for the topic,” she said. 

For spring semester, all the shows work in either a virtual or hybrid environment depending on what the school decides, Bayer said. However the shows go on, what is important is that they are going on at all.

“Those that are dedicated to being in live theater crave the outlet for their art,” Bayer said. “An artistic person needs their art to feed themselves in the other aspects of their lives. … It feeds them and motivates them to do well in math class or science class because they’re also doing their art.” It is also is the place many of these students find friendships, positive relationships with adults and “where many of our kids find the greatest success in high school,” she said.  

“Clue: Stay at Home Edition” is available Friday, Oct. 23, and Saturday, Oct. 24, 6 p.m., Tickets:

BRAVO and CAST back at it

Both Oak Park D97 Middle Schools have shows planned for their students interested in theater. 

At Julian, CAST has The Diary of Anne Frank scheduled for Nov. 14 and Aftershock on Nov. 21. Vote for Women is slated to show on Dec. 5. All three will be delivered online. 

Brooks just completed two virtual productions, H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds: A Totally Teen Online Theatrical Event and Super Happy Awesome News, A Virtual Musical. Dear Edwina, Jr. Zoomsical, for 6th graders, will be showing virtually in early December. James & the Giant Peach, Jr. Zoomsical, for 7th and 8th graders, will be online mid-December.

Michelle Dybal, Arts Editor

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