Stevenson theater students mount pandemic production of 'Newsies' streaming Friday
After weeks of virtual auditions, socially distanced rehearsals and filming outdoors, Stevenson High School's theater department will be streaming online its fall musical production of "Newsies" Friday through Sunday.
More than 120 students who make up the cast, crew and pit orchestra members pulled off the pandemic production in three months while mostly wearing masks, gloves and performing 6 feet apart on an outdoor stage built specially for the show on a renovated pool patio. The Lincolnshire school's brick facade serves as the production's backdrop.
"That was a certainly a new experience," said Abra Chusid, theater teacher and production director. "It was important that we maintain a connection as a theater community within Stevenson. We just had to think creatively about how to make that happen in a safe way."
None of the cast, crew and orchestra pit members or the 15 school employees helping with the production came down with COVID-19 or any other serious illnesses during this time, she added.
Students auditioned by submitting videos of themselves singing, dancing and acting, then participated in rehearsals over Zoom video conferencing as well as in person in the school's performing arts center and on the outdoor set. Plexiglass shields separated the pit orchestra members and tailor-made masks were worn by the wind and brass instrumentalists to minimize exposure.
"We wore masks when we were in person throughout the entire process up until the very last moments when we would film the scenes," said Monique Furman, 18, of Vernon Hills, a senior who plays the role of Race. "I feel like the most difficult part was like figuring out how to ... create those connections between characters when your characters can't physically touch."
Furman, who has been participating in theater since second grade, also serves as the show's assistant director.
"Theater brings about joy and connection, and that is something we all need, especially during these times," Furman said. "It definitely made my senior year in a global pandemic a little more special."
School officials modeled safety protocols for the show on the Illinois High School Association's pandemic guidelines for conducting sports to minimize the time students spent without a mask on. Students were masked throughout rehearsals except when filming for the final performance. They lip-synced to their own prerecorded vocals so they wouldn't be "spitting on each other causing any extra flow of germs in the air," Furman added.
Sound mixing alone took more than two weeks to complete. The school hired a professional sound mixer to balance students voices, the instruments, and sound effects, and stitch the tracks together.
The hardest part of pulling together the production was the uncertainty of the pandemic situation itself, which is why multiple contingency plans were put in place to mitigate interruptions, said sophomore Shrenik Balaji, 15, of Hawthorn Woods, who plays the role of Splasher.
"In this entire process, there was just so much of unknown," he said. "It was overall just a really good process in terms of the main message of 'Newsies,' which is 'seize the day.' And I think that we did seize the day ... we made a show when we didn't know what to do at all."
Performances stream 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are free and must be reserved in advance at showtix4u.com/event-details/41685.