Performing arts update: the show must go online

Little technology, lots of talent, as virtual calls set the stage for performing arts

The performing arts are a highly visual and collaborative medium, part of many classes and extracurriculars of Oak Park High School’s creative curriculum, including, but not limited to: choir, drama, band and ComedySportz. However, with distance learning protocols being implemented, the performing arts department has had to adapt and find new ways to teach, learn and present their work to the school.

Leading into the 2020-21 school year, there were apprehensions from both students and teachers about how effective the teaching for these programs would be, considering performance-based arts often rely on in-person contact. 

“I was so anxious during the summer, wondering how the choir is going to do [Distance Learning] long-term,” OPHS Director of Choir Heidi Cissell wrote to the Talon. “After talking to some of my music colleagues and signing up for some music workshops and virtual meetings through … California Choral Directors Association … [and] Southern California Choral Directors Association, I realized that all of the other choral directors were also concerned and feeling the same anxiety I was feeling.”

In order to adapt to the online climate, choir students will submit recordings of their videos to OPHS alumnus and former choir member Amit Maish, who will edit a final product. Cissell and Choir Leadership are currently working on other projects, too.

“When I decided that I wasn’t going to ‘water down’ the choir repertoire for this [20]20-21 school year, a big weight [was] lifted from my shoulders. The choir students love the idea that ‘choir goes on, just like before,’” Cissell wrote. “We are currently working on a ‘Holiday Showcase.’  I wanted to start the year, with some light-hearted music, and I knew that the students would miss very much the opportunity that we always had to perform for the handicapped students at the Miller Career & Transition school and our performance at the Reagan Library, so I wanted to give the students an opportunity to still showcase soloists and several choral numbers in a virtual setting or a ‘half live-stream [for soloists]/virtual concert.’”

Choir students dress up for Buddy Day, wearing hats of all sorts. (Photo Courtesy of Heidi Cissell)

The drama program has also been working to come up with creative solutions to keep students engaged in theater. 

“Our work and my teaching BEGINS with the very things we are supposed to keep our students away from. The whole concept of live theater is physical contact and the very closeness we now must be avoiding,” head of the Oak Park drama program, Allan Hunt wrote to the Talon. “We are very fortunate to have talented and enthusiastic actors and actresses, but the closest we could come to would be ‘cold readings’ or perhaps performing on Zoom, but even then our cast would not be able to stand close or embrace, etc. How could we ever do the balcony scene from [The Tragedy of] Romeo and Juliet?”

The marching band has been finding new ways to exercise both their bodily muscles and artistic muscles from home.

“We all get on at 3:30, and then we start with physical warmups,” senior and drum major Nate Trux said. “We’ll do abs one day [and] legs another day. Then, we go into our horn warm ups, which is playing through scale exercises.”

The pandemic has not halted the marching band’s progress on their show that was supposed to happen this semester. They continue to work in the hopes that they can perform when in-person school resumes.

“Our show for 2020 is entitled ‘Chicago, 1930,’” Trux said. “In the past, a lot of our marching band shows have been classical-based. A few years ago we did a show on Gustav Holst’s ‘The Planets,’ and then we did the classics …  Most recently we did ‘Time Waits for No Man.’ This year, we decided to switch it up and have a pretty much all jazz-based show. It’s super energetic and awesome …  it would just be great if we could play it in person.”

OPHS’s comedy-imrpov team, ComedySportz, often requires the participants to play off of each other’s actions and environments in order to perform, making use of space-work and physical interaction. The team practices weekly on Zoom, playing off of each other in hopes of having a “season” this year. The former introduction to ComedySportz games, “Players on the Playing Field,” has even been temporarily changed to “Players on the Playing Screen,” by ComedySportz Los Angeles.

ComedySportz practices on Zoom in preparation for their first virtual match of the season in November. (Photo Courtesy of Camryn Council)

“Obviously, a big part of ComedySportz was meeting in the choir room every Wednesday and doing practices in real-time. We have switched to Zoom, and it isn’t the full experience, because we can’t play some of the games without moving our bodies, but we can definitely do some stuff,” senior and ComedySportz member Blake Harshfield said.

On Saturday, Oct. 3, ComedySportz members virtually attended the 6-hour ComedySportz High School League Gamecon, learning the ins-and-outs of virtual comedy. The first OPHS ComedySportz game is coming on Friday, Nov. 6 at 7:30 p.m.

“It’s definitely still around, and we may have some games in the future, so stay tuned!” Harshfield said.

Despite the changes facing the performing arts program, staff and students have come together to find new ways to perform during online learning.

“Our goal is to put everything back together in our program, so we could truthfully say … ‘the show must go on’ … and, oh yes, — this one: ‘they lived happily ever-after!’” Hunt wrote.