OPHS students perform first-ever virtual 24-hour play

They’re “Zoom-ing” into auditions

A Photoshopped image of the cast is used as a promotional photo for the play. (Photo Courtesy of Zoe Reisman)

Lights, camera, Zoom call! This past Saturday on Nov. 14, the International Thespian Society performed “Bad Auditions,” a play that was rehearsed and presented in just over 24 hours. This was just the second ITS performance done with a 24-hour time limit and the first virtual theater production in Oak Park High School history.

“To perform, even though it was online and only one week, was the most amazing experience,” ITS troupe member and senior Karen Dotan said. “It was just one of the first fun experiences in a long time.”

Dotan played the part of Casting Director, a confident industry professional who quickly becomes exasperated as she witnesses one “bad audition” after the next. Dotan, along with her clumsy assistant Rowan, played by senior Camryn Counsil, watch as comically awful actors attempt to land a part on a new TV court show. The play was chosen out of a list from Playscripts.com and was written by professional playwrights Ian and Carrie McWethy.

“We were all very, very happy that they chose ‘Bad Auditions’ because it was specifically written to be performed on Zoom as it was created during COVID-19,” Dotan said. “The idea of having a bad audition really resonates with all of us in the drama department because everyone’s had a bad audition. We’ve all been in the room and done something crazy and silly like that. It’s kind of a silly way to poke fun at our own experiences.”

Juniors Tessa Anderson and Ashley Sanft directed the play together. The two had never worked together before (not even on a group project), but were pleasantly surprised to learn that they had a strikingly similar vision.

“Ashley [Sanft] and I have amazing chemistry,” Anderson said.  “We agreed on most things we said … actually everything!”

The cast of “Bad Auditions” reps the play by wearing custom-made t-shirts. (Photo Courtesy of Paris Logsdon and Maya Melancon)

Sanft agreed wholeheartedly: “I remember we were setting up sides, and we both had the same idea — the exact same idea — on the way we wanted to play the scene. That’s when we kind of realized, ‘Woah, that’s super awesome! We’re both thinking the same thing.’”

Both Anderson and Sanft have been in theater since kindergarten and are passionate about their craft. In previous high school productions, the two were both on-screen as actors and off-screen: Anderson was part of the drama crew team, while Sanft often helped assemble costumes. Both worked in their respective areas for last year’s 24-hour play and feel like their blended experiences benefited them greatly.

“It was really nice that it wasn’t two crew kids or two theater kids, because it meant that we always made sure we were giving everyone the information they needed,” Sanft said. “We weren’t putting anyone up on a pedestal. It felt really even.”

When it came to outfits, the costume crew video chatted cast members to discuss their wardrobe and what clothes would fit their character.

Senior Ashlynn Salzwedel, costume crew member and role of Karen Buckman in ‘Bad Auditions,’ expressed her excitement working with the team.

The cast and crew of “Bad Auditions” virtually pose on their Zoom rehearsal. (Photo Courtesy of Eddie Park)

“We couldn’t meet at the costumes shed, so my role mostly consisted of watching the rehearsal and writing down notes,” Salzwedel said. “I looked to see what best would fit the specific character. We FaceTimed them and basically went through their entire closet for outfits.”

As the 24 hours of preparatory time came to a close, excitement buzzed as the cast and crew readied for their live Zoom play. As the play began, the directors were thrilled to see their actors shine.

“The performances everyone did were the best that they had done in their entire time,” Anderson said. “Everyone was perfect! Spot on!”

About 150 different computers tuned in to watch the final live performance. Since families can all watch on one computer, the actual size of the audience was likely larger.

“The day that school shut down was the night we were supposed to open Chicago,” Dotan said, referring to the cancelled spring theater production in 2020. “[So] it was really so wonderful that the Oak Park community came out to support us, even in a virtual format! We all really appreciated it!”

As for the future, there are plans in motion to make another 24-hour play in the spring. A play with a longer preparatory time is being assembled as well, where students outside of ITS and newcomer actors can participate.

“This certainly isn’t the end of drama, and that just makes me so happy,” Dotan said.