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High schools plan virtual spring shows

Tupper Lake takes on Shakespeare; Saranac Lake goes for ‘Oklahoma!’

Saranac Lake High School last staged “Oklahoma!” in 2006, seen here. From left are Matthew Wagner as Ali Hackim, Caroline Couture as Ado Annie and Josh Preston as Will Parker. The school is again putting on the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, but this time in a prerecorded online audio version, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Enterprise photo — Brittany Proulx)

While people hope a return to normalcy is in the not-so distant future, they still need to social distance and stay 6 feet apart from others due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That means the spring high school musical season looks much different than most years, where students would be having rehearsals every night, preparing for multiple full houses in March.

With all of the obstacles remote classes have brought on, Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake schools are still planning to do spring shows — remotely, of course. Lake Placid High School expects to pass on it this year.

Tupper Lake’s Shakespeare trio

From left, Raegan Fritts as Little Red Riding Hood, Jayce Clement as the Baker and Stephanie Fortune as the Baker’s Wife rehearse last March for “Into the Woods,” a musical the Red and Black Players of Tupper Lake Middle-High School never got to perform since it was canceled due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Enterprise photo — Griffin Kelly)

George Cordes is the stage director for the fall play at Tupper Lake Middle/High School and co-directs the spring musicals with his wife Elizabeth Cordes. He normally spends this time after the holidays directing, building sets and designing sound for the spring show. He and Elizabeth knew they wanted to do something artistic early in the school year, but by the time they got permission from the school, it was too late to do a fall play.

They eventually decided to do a winter play after they determined that doing a musical would be too difficult to do remotely. They are using Google Meets to rehearse virtually two to three times a week and they have been rehearsing since December.

The play they decided to do is actually three short plays that are adaptation of William Shakespeare plays: “Macbeth,” “The Tempest” and “Twelfth Night.” George spoke highly of the students’ work and said he is glad they are able to do something.

“Liz and I felt like we needed to add some theater to their activities,” he said.

Back in March, Tupper Lake had to cancel its school musical during the week of dress rehearsals.

“It was devastating for the students,” George said. They had fully planned “Into the Woods” before everything shut down.

For the winter play, they are having recording sessions the week before they plan on streaming it in late February. Students are responsible for their own costumes and props, but they are able to have their scripts in front of them for reference. “We want them to know it, but we don’t expect them to be fully memorized,” George said.

When asked about how the process was going, he was optimistic about the process.

“It is totally different than usual.” Usually they depend on ticket sales, but they are not charging a fee to watch the play streamed online.

“It is challenging and limiting, but we are able to focus more on facial expressions,” George said.

“It is hard, though, because everything school-related is on a computer.”

George said students have burnout from being on the computer too much and that theater is normally a break from school, but he said students are handling the situation extremely well.

For more information on the Tupper Lake winter play, go to the Red and Black Players Facebook page. They will be streaming their prerecorded performances on Feb. 24, 25 and 26. The plan is to show “Macbeth” on Wednesday the 24th, “The Tempest” on Thursday the 25th and “Twelfth Night” on Friday the 26th.

Saranac Lake plans “Oklahoma!”

Saranac Lake High School is planning on doing a full musical remotely and announced the cast for “Oklahoma!” this week. Vocal music teacher Drew Benware talked about about how the process was going. He is the musical director of the show, and Bonnie Brewer is the director.

While the school has a full plan on how to do its remote production, Benware made it clear that they do not yet have the rights to the show from the company.

“We are hopeful that our plan goes through,” he said. “Normally licenses are for a 12-week period to rehearse the show and do live performances. Obviously, no one can do that right now.”

He had picked “Oklahoma!” last March before the pandemic had shut down school. “Even though I took last year’s production off, watching from the outside had made me think about what show I wanted to do when I returned,” he said.

This is obviously different from any other year for a musical production. For auditions, students had to record themselves singing the material and send it to the directors. “This year, to streamline the process, we told students if they wanted a minor role, all they had to do was sign up, rather than audition,” Benware said.

Rehearsing the music has been much different than normal as well because it is impossible to have 40 people all in the same room to learn the ensemble pieces right now. “So now, I go on Google Meet, Zoom or FaceTime to meet with the students one-on-one,” Benware said. “They have to play the accompaniment themselves on a separate device because the technology doesn’t allow me to play along with them singing.”

The show will be recorded, but with no visuals, and then Joey Izzo will mix it all together to create a full production people can listen to.

“It’s like an audiobook but with musical numbers as well,” Benware said.

For the songs, students send in recordings of themselves singing their parts, and then Izzo will put all the tracks together to create an ensemble. Members of the community will be able to purchase a link that will go live for a certain time, and they can listen to the production during that time. More information for how to be able to purchase the link will be coming soon.

No show in Lake Placid

Taylor Prosper, musical director for the Lake Placid High School show, said they would most likely not be able to do a full production this spring. Through all of the cancellations and unexpected trials of COVID-19, the drama department has had to think creatively about how to do virtual performances.

“With all of the added stress this year, we see our students putting in extra hours academically,” he said. “Our current path is building upon foundational performance skills, something that in ‘normal’ years we don’t always have time to focus on.”

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