Shall we rock you? School musical theater productions navigate the uncertainties of the pandemic

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ON THE SCENE

What: We will rock you
Where: Facebook Live
When: March 3 to 6, 7 p.m. every evening
Tickets: $ 20.99 (per household) starting at clarremont.sd63.bc.ca

Teachers who run high school musical theater programs face many moving elements, especially when it comes to staging large-scale annual productions.

But unpredictability amid the COVID-19 pandemic has made life even more complicated for schools this year, including Claremont Secondary, whose version of We Will Rock You, the Broadway musical based on songs from the British rock band Queen, comes to life next week.

Complicated by school hours and social calendars, student productions are known to stay in constant flux until opening night. It’s part of the fun, according to Colin Plant, who teaches theater and musical theater at Claremont (and is also an advisor to Saanich). When the curtains on the house open and the stage lights come on, several months of school and extracurricular work by students and staff seem like a worthwhile investment.

This year, however, has been even more difficult, as the pandemic has brought about ever-changing expectations about whether or not there would be an audience. “Kids, they’re resilient,” said Plant, who runs We Will Rock You, which will be played nightly March 3-6, via Facebook Live. “Schools in the area are finding a way to work with their students and I think it’s a great story to tell.

Plant said 47 students in Grades 9 to 12 rehearsed twice a week, for two and a half hours a day, for five and a half months, not knowing exactly what form the production would take.

“When we started, we thought we would have an audience,” Plant said. “Honestly, we were dreaming at the time that things might be better [by now] and we could have a regular year.

Then there are the masks, which all students must wear when performing from the stage at the Ridge Theater in Claremont for the livestream. This makes things tricky for the two actors who are supposed to kiss in a scene. “We all wear masks,” Plant said. “And that’s a challenge in itself.”

Plant, who has a theater degree from the University of Victoria and is a veteran of the performing arts community in Victoria, really has a heart for graduate students as older people often get the best roles. Their chance to perfect their craft in front of a live audience was taken away.

The number of performances of We Will Rock You has also been reduced. student productions to grow for 15 years at Claremont. “When the students come back for that second week, the growth is still high. They were away from the show for a few nights, they thought about it, they recovered. Much of the energy in this second week of shows is just fantastic. “

Plant and Claremont’s fellow drama teachers, Chelsea Giordano, Laura-Jane Wallace, and Jessica English, gave We Will Rock You their full attention out of respect for the kids who graduated in June.

Students will have learned something about resilience by the end of this experience, Plant said, which will help them if they choose to pursue a career in the challenging entertainment industry.

“We create memories. They’ll just be different memories. Every child stayed with us – no one gave up. And I think they know they are part of something special that they will remember forever. They will be proud to be able to put on the show under these really difficult circumstances. “

Most schools in Greater Victoria have drama and musical theater programs similar to that in Claremont, and the majority have faced the same uncertainty since the arrival of COVID-19. Last year there were some performances with a smaller audience of 50 – but an audience nonetheless.

However, no schools are allowed to host in-person performances at this time. All are produced online due to public health protocols. Stelly’s Secondary aired The Drowsy Chaperone online on February 11, while Reynolds Secondary is scheduled to air Freaky from March 9 to 12.

Oak Bay High School is always rehearsing Mamma Mia !, which is scheduled from April 21 to May 2 at the school’s Dave Dunnet Theater. But it doesn’t have any streaming rights to the stage production, so if audiences aren’t back in theaters by April, the show will be canceled, according to Oak’s drama teacher. Bay, Steven Price.

Claremont was in a similar boat over the summer, Plant said, having picked Footloose well in advance for its year-end production. After finding out that the song and dance favorite couldn’t be played online, the school chose We Will Rock You instead.

“We had to make a choice at that point,” Plant said. “We had the choice to do it live, but not to broadcast it. We decided we just couldn’t take the risk. The kids were pretty disappointed because they had spent the whole summer dreaming about Footloose, but we had to choose a title that would have at least allowed us to broadcast it.

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