TMSG: High school theatre program pivots during pandemic, still able to perform

Tell Me Something Good

TELL ME SOMETHING GOOD — The classic musical “Fiddler on the Roof” starts with a song that pretty much sums up what the show is all about.  “Tradition!”

The best-known tradition in theatre is, ‘The show must go on.’  So, for students in Manlius Pebble Hill’s Upper School, losing their spring musical to COVID-19 for a second year in a row was a non-starter.  The only question was, how to do “Fiddler” under COVID-19 protocols.  The first rehearsals brought their first steps away from tradition.  They rehearsed over Zoom, and recorded all of their lines and vocals individually.

Gracie Montas is a junior in the cast.  “It’s really different because we started on Zoom and so I wasn’t sure how connected I would feel with the rest of the cast,” she says.  “But then I guess since we’re all doing it together, we got to become… really, really close.”

Many schools have streamed shows on the web during the pandemic, but streaming is prohibited with “Fiddler” for legal reasons. So, they looked at ways to bring an audience together, and planned for drive-in performances outdoors.

If a pandemic is going to force your production out of the confines of your theatre, Fiddler on the Roof is the right show to do.  Much of the show is set outside, and when actors fall in the dirt, they get dirty.  But when the forecast called for a stormy week, the cast had to re-imagine the show again, to do the show indoors in the school’s gymnasium.

Maya Dwyer is the director and choreographer of the production.  “I really was preparing myself for a huge amount of push back on like the students feeling so disappointed and that never really happened.  They were just like ‘OK, cool, where do I go?’”

“Fiddler on the Roof” is drawn from the writings of Sholem Aleichem, about life in Russia in the early 1900’s.  It tells the story of “Tevye,”  a milkman trying to maintain his Jewish traditions in the face of challenges and changes from all around him.  For almost sixty years, “Fiddler” has taught audiences young and old how to make the best of the hand you’re dealt. 

“The wonderful thing about ‘Fiddler’ is we have this connection across cultures,” says senior Hannah Jin, who plays Tevye’s eldest daughter.  “Because I’m from a different culture, but I can still feel connected to the message that it’s delivering.”

Ryan Hinshaw plays “Tevye,” and says he draws on his own family heritage to help tell the story.  Like the character he plays, Ryan is rolling with the challenges of the pandemic.  “Obviously, we’ve had to have masks and be distanced and everything.  but we made the best of it, and we have four shows and that’s pretty nice.  A lot of schools don’t get to do live shows, and we’re getting to do it.”

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