Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic put a pause on live theater, Oak Park and River Forest High School performing arts teacher Michelle Bayer and her students have worked tirelessly to keep the shows going. They produced plays and musicals, pulling in dozens of staff and students to lend a hand, all while abiding by the school’s safety measures.
While live theater has made a comeback in recent months, Bayer knows the pandemic is far from over. And, as she and students return to the stage, they continue to face one major challenge – a short supply of microphones – and are now looking to the community for some support.
The Huskie Booster Club, a volunteer parent organization that raises money for various activities and programs at OPRF, has launched the ‘Can You Hear Them Now?’ campaign to buy mics for the theater department and is asking area residents to donate. The club aims to raise $13,000 for a new 12-microphone sound system and will roll out the campaign Nov. 30 in time for Giving Tuesday. Held every Tuesday after Thanksgiving since 2012, Giving Tuesday is part of a movement that encourages people to give and collaborate with various nonprofits and organizations across the world.
Because students must be masked during their performances, they must be mic’d or else “they can’t be heard” even inside the Little Theater, which before the pandemic welcomed over 300 guests, said Bayer, who also serves as chair of the performing arts department. One problem is that the existing mics are a decade-old and don’t work properly anymore, Bayer said. Another issue is that there’s just not enough mics to go around. In order to prevent the spread of Covid, microphones must be sanitized and disinfected and sit unused for a week, and “that also limits the number of mics for how many kids we have,” she said.
“There’s a bigger demand for microphones, not only for theater, but for everything else that would use the Little Theater space,” Bayer said. “You just can’t hear people without them.”
In the past, the theater department relied on ticket sales to fund many aspects of its productions, including set design, lighting, costume rentals and hair and makeup. But limiting audiences to allow social distancing has put a cap on those ticket sales, ultimately creating a dip in funding. As a result, Bayer and her students have leaned on local organizations, including the school’s alumni club, to piece the shows together.
Bayer said she hopes people would consider giving to the booster club’s fundraiser.
For Bayer, OPRF’s performing arts program is founded on the power of storytelling and often paves the way for students to use their voice.
“For many of our kids, what they do in their co-curricular activities is what makes them do well in school,” she said. “A vibrant theater department, a vibrant music department, a vibrant robotics department, a vibrant athletic department – all of those things enhance a student’s performance inside the classroom.
“By donating here, you’re not just donating to the theater department. These mics are going to be utilized by multiple departments, and you’re re-engaging kids back to live, in-person theater, but live in-person education, which they so needed by being gone for the last year.”