Eureka High’s performing arts students were recently able to present the arts in front of people with COVID-compliant in-person theater and music productions. Performing for a sparse – but surely enthusiastic – audience, the students tugged at the hearts of friends and families with a charming rendition of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” late last month and dazzled viewers. with jazz, a symphony group, orchestra, choir and a cappella performances last week.
“It was just exhilarating to be on stage again,” said Isaac Young, a sophomore, actor and singer at Eureka High. Outpost. He starred as Charlie Brown and Linus in the musical (it was a split cast production) and sang the tenor for Limited Edition, Eureka High’s a cappella group, at the concert. “It was really nice to be up there again, after more than a year without being there. “
Getting there was not easy. Learning to sing or play an instrument from a distance, for example, is a huge challenge, said Charles Young, music director at Eureka High. Outpost, not to mention the barriers some children face in practicing in a home full of family members during school and office hours. For the limited edition, singers had to listen to recordings and practice on their own during distance learning, Isaac said.
Teaching theater from a distance was difficult, but possible, said Nan Voss, theater director at Eureka High. Students have focused on things like character voices or facial expression this year rather than physicality and spatial relationships. “Some of my students really blossomed as actors and took on roles they might not have played in person,” Voss said. “I think for some of them, being alone in their own room has helped them not to be afraid to express themselves.”
When Eureka High’s campus opened in March, returning to the auditorium was not as easy as returning to class, as vocals, as well as mouthpiece instruments, obviously require screening. For safety reasons, some music students at Eureka High gathered to learn percussion rather than their usual instruments for a while after they returned to campus.
“There was this jam session where I taught them a simple four-beat pattern on a percussion instrument. And it was a cacophony of sounds, ”Young said. “They look at me like, ‘Can we do this again?’ And I said, ‘Well we’re going again, but this time I really need you to beat the drums. If you’re gonna break my drum head then you better make it worth it . ‘ It was so strong, it was so strong, but it was joy.
Once this was deemed safe, student musicians resumed a sort of regular routine by practicing their familiar instruments before school, outdoors, and socially. But only a fraction of each set was present for those rehearsals as the school alphabetically divides its student body into stable groups to mitigate the COVID danger, which impacted instrument ratios. “Strangely enough, all of my trumpets were in the bottom half of the alphabet. So I would have a lot of trumpets, flutes, but no clarinets, ”Young said.
Finally, playing for an audience came with a whole new set of complications. The 750-seat auditorium was limited to around 100 people, and shows developed complicated registration and placement protocols for their guests. “Even though the audience was masked and socially distanced, it was a bit scary and disturbing; I just didn’t want my little show to turn into a “super-broadcaster” event, Voss said. “All of our safety precautions have paid off; the cast and audience remained healthy throughout the race.
A week later, the music department organized a few consecutive concerts in one evening.
“To get there we had to make sure we had the audience there for a while, we had to open the doors, fog the place up. [with a machine] to take down COVID, then we could reload with a different audience, ”Young said. “Oh my God, my grace.”
To avoid wearing masks, the cast of the musical took quick tests before their final rehearsals and the show itself. “We were all thrilled the first day we rehearsed and saw our faces. It was touching, overwhelming and so necessary. All of our muscles relaxed a bit and there were so many smiles, ”said Voss.
The student musicians and singers could not quickly test their performances. “[Singers] got these special masks that look like a platypus face so that we can speak better and articulate and be heard more, ”Isaac said. “But singing with a mask on is just difficult in general.” Musicians and their instruments were required to wear masks that covered their bells (the part of mouthpiece instruments from which breath infested music comes out).
But even protected by their masks, Young said the students’ happiness in playing music together and performing in front of an audience is evident. “The sense of community and the sense of joy on the faces of my students – of having an audience in the room to applaud – was palpable. You can feel it in the room, the feeling of relief, ”he said.
“It was really nice to be able to play with such a large group of people again. We sounded like a real band. It was really exciting, ”said Kyra Dart, drum major for a senior symphony group. “It was a bit chaotic. But I think it’s just because we haven’t done it for over a year now.
The very small audience was special in a way. “I wasn’t very nervous about the audience because COVID protocols require you to only have a few guests. So the people who come to see the show are people who love us, ”Kyra said. “I actually heard a few people say that they were a little moved to hear us perform together in person for the first time in so long.”