When Gretchen H. ’23 joined the theater program at The Bush School, they envisioned learning how to use the more typical pieces of theater technology, such as sound and light boards, but never a full set of cameras and livestream technology. But amid a global pandemic, students' love of acting required them to engage their creativity and reimagine a whole new world of performance.
Faced with the uncertainty of putting together a 2021 Spring production, Gretchen said under the leadership of Bush’s Upper School Drama Teacher and Theater Director Hilary Moore, the theater program made up of 23 students was able to envision a new way to put on a one-of-a-kind production.
“There were definitely some thoughts of not having a show, but Hilary decided that a show would be a good idea and might create some joy for the difficult time during the pandemic,” Gretchen said.
With a guiding force of providing happiness and some sense of normalcy back to life during a challenging time, the Bush theater department took on the enormous task of producing William Shakespeare’s romantic comedy, Twelfth Night, virtually through the online medium of livestream. The team performed three, online-only productions, in early May.
“The decision for it to be presented all virtually was made pretty early on, which was good because it determined a lot of things about the production,” Gretchen said. “A full set of cameras versus a normal in-person audience make a huge difference to the way the show is put together.”
With Bush operating between in-person and hybrid learning last Spring, the theater department went about figuring out how to recreate one of Shakespeare’s plays via a virtual setting that all Bush community members could view. From the actors to the technical crew, everyone played a critical role in developing a new way to put on a production.
“It was incredibly empowering because the mix of the very modern technology we used and the Shakespearean era English shows the versatility of theater and the ability to adapt Shakespeare’s plays to whatever circumstances arise,” Gretchen said.
Gretchen, who was the assistant stage manager, controlled the livestream and the switches between cameras. During the rehearsal process, they assisted the stage manager, Tamarin Camp ’21, in managing the actors, creating and managing spreadsheets, and basically whatever else needed to be done.
“My role during the performances was key to the display of the show because I allowed for the actors to be seen when they were on because I switched between the cameras, and I also managed the links for the livestreams, so I controlled whether or not people could actually watch the show,” Gretchen said.
Ian F. ’23 never imagined that during the spring of sophomore year at Bush he'd be on stage performing one of William Shakespeare's longest play monologues virtually, while wearing a mask. He took on the comic relief and “somewhat goofball” role of Malvolio.
“I was really there to lift the mood of the whole play, and I hope I made people at home laugh,” he said. “I never could have predicted what would happen in the drama department as a result of COVID-19, I don’t think anyone could …. (but) that’s part of the reason I think it was so great, that we pulled it off even through everything going on. It felt amazing to be able to perform again. Shakespeare can be difficult, no matter when or where, and to pull it off in COVID-19 just made me so proud.”
Both Ian and Gretchen echoed the sentiments that putting together a production like this brought the entire Bush theater community even closer together, and was a true display of their fortitude and commitment during such a challenging year.
“It displayed so much strength from the actors and techs alike because nearly everything we were doing had never been done before in a Bush theater production,” Gretchen said. “We had an entire set of cameras that we had to learn how to use and then switch between with buttons and so many wires, and we had a combination of actors on Zoom and in person that we had to figure out how to integrate together. This was a new experience for everyone, and our ability to pull this off so well through all the struggles and complications displayed an incredible level of strength and resilience on many levels, and we could not have done it without the guidance and support of our wonderful director Hilary. Not only was this a technically difficult show, it was emotionally difficult as well because the pandemic created mental struggles for everyone. Pushing through the emotional turmoil while also creating a balance of taking care of our mental health showed us how incredible the Bush theater program is.”
While countless hours of in-person and online work was required, learning new technology, speaking through cloth masks and more, the uncharted territories made the students grateful to be a part of the Bush theater community.
“The first time I went back inside the theater was exhilarating, it made me feel at home again and made me remember all the good memories I had had in it,” Ian said. “The break made me really realize how much I love to act and how much acting is really a part of me.”