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Edinboro University & Northwestern Pennsylvania High School Journalism Competition: Third Place (Website)

Prep-Villa theater adjusting to COVID-19 restrictions


Prep and Villa’s theater program met an unfortunate end in early spring 2020 with COVID-19 closing down schools, businesses, and stores alike. With schools closing, students around the country lost their spring and summer musicals, which resulted in seniors losing their novel senior bow. With COVID-19 still at large and safety precautions being enforced and followed at Prep and Villa, folks may wonder how the theater program is affected.

Drama is an activity that has had a very difficult time with the adaptation to COVID-19 precautions. These precautions often mean limited contact, masks, and at least six feet of space between people. Tasks such as staging have proven to be an issue due to the six-foot social distancing policy that is enforced. Acting with masks also proves to be limiting in terms of forms of expression, as faces are a big part of emotions and acting. Also, Prep theater is very well known for boasting large musical cast numbers; however, with the strict guidelines for COVID-19, there may be limitations and heavy watch in certain areas of the practice. Risks also arise with the orchestra present as live music, for the musicals

In order to learn more, three prominent figure heads in the theater department were asked for their input. Mr. Alesso, the head of Music Department at Villa, is part of the orchestra for shows and helps with vocal practices for musicals. Mr. Steadman is the head of the Music Department at Prep and helps with vocal practices as well and is the conductor for most shows.  Father Mike is the Director of Theater Arts at Prep and Villa as well as the Acting and Stagecraft teacher at Cathedral Prep. 

All three were optimistic and determined to keep the dramatic arts alive while being as safe as possible for the students, audience, and orchestra.

Mr. Alesso spoke of the orchestra saying, “There are some instruments that create more aerosols than others, so if we had those specific instruments, we would need 9 or 12 feet around those.”

With more space, it keeps the other members of the orchestra safe. The issue with the orchestra is that there are brass and woodwind instruments that blow bacteria-filled air out of the instrument in a larger area. That extra space could help with keeping everyone safe.

Mr. Steadman also made a careful realization regarding the orchestra saying, “You have to take into consideration how far away they are from the kids on stage who are singing out to the audience,” risking the bacteria and particles falling onto the orchestra. However, if they must, Father Mike said, “[I] might opt for a CD this year,” one sacrifice that must be made in order to keep everyone safe. 

Musicals were also brought up, especially the vocal practices needed to perfect those harmonies, which presents some issues. Mr. Steadman and Mr. Alesso have both done some research and stated, “the recommendation is that you don’t sing as a group longer than 30 minutes.” This is because the amount of bacteria released in the air while singing is larger compared to talking. Therefore, they must increase the amount of practices to accommodate proper guidelines. Father Mike has some plans for musicals, however. He mentions that “[I’m] looking at possibly doing shows where the majority of the songs are either solos or duets or people could be spread out all around,” which would help eliminate the dangers of larger amounts of students singing. 

There were a few specific questions with Father Mike. As the director of the shows, he has been contemplating possibilities the longest with safe practices. First and foremost, he said in a hopeful manner, “I would rather not have masks be worn. I have to figure that out,” which shows his persistence for keeping this theater season as normal as possible. However, other than just masks, there is still the social distancing aspect. Often on stage, characters interact with each other, either with dancing or simple conversation which regularly breaks the 6-foot rule in place. To this, Father Mike said, “It is not going to look weird because like 90 percent of the play takes place outside in the Forest of Arden, so you could all be sitting apart anyway.”

It’s obvious that he has been planning for a long time and was ready to take all the necessary steps for the shows to go on as best as possible. Overall, Father Mike mainly wants to include everyone he can as he usually does. Father Mike said, “My commitment is to do a lot of shows and get everyone who wants to be involved, involved, even if means doing several smaller shows rather than one large show.” This gives everyone hope, especially the seniors, that they still have a shot at a last musical and their senior bow.

I’m committed to doing whatever I have to, to make theater happen at our school.

Father Michael DeMartinis

For the most part, everyone seems very confident about the future of the arts at Prep and Villa. Mr. Steadman says with confidence, “I think all of us that run the show are being pretty cognizant of guidelines and safety protocols.” Knowing the nature of the students and his peers, he also said, “Full steam ahead, while maintaining the proper safety protocols”, once again, explaining his enthusiastic view on the whole situation.

Mr. Alesso also agreed, having a positive view on the students. “Students that want to do shows are gonna make it work,” he said. “They’re gonna follow the rules and make it happen.”

Father Mike is also optimistic. “I’m committed to doing whatever I have to, to make theater happen at our school,” he said. Hearing a positive and uplifting view from the three figure heads of the department must be wonderful news to students, parents, and avid show watchers. 

Overall, the work going into theater during COVID is high, as it takes a lot of forward-thinking planning into the future without properly knowing what the future is. As the time for musicals comes near, there won’t be much deterring them. It can be presumed that theater is still on for the student body of Prep and Villa.

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