By: Evelyn H. (’24)
From Nov. 11-14, Upper School student actors performed the musical “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.” The directors originally chose the musical “In the Heights,” but a lot of dancing and singing was involved, so it was changed due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. The new musical incorporated coronavirus prevention measures, including masks and social distancing restrictions.
The musical takes place in fictional Putnam County, where middle school students are competing in a prestigious local spelling bee competition. “I wanted to pick a story that could infuse the idea that the conditions in the story are also experiencing COVID-19,” Upper School Theater Art Teacher and Musical Director, Mr. Cory Edwards said. “All the characters are experiencing masks, but it is part of what they’re going through.”
Having a COVID-19 themed musical allowed the audience to relate to the characters in the musical. “I think it’s enhancing the musical in a way so it’s kind of tying in our current situation and making it a fun experience for everyone who’s watching,” Ivan Wei (‘23), who played Chip Tolentino, said.
Although student actors were required to wear their masks in most of their scenes, a six-foot circle was drawn in the middle of the stage, where students could safely take their masks off to speak and sing. “[It’s] great to be able to at least see the main characters’ faces briefly,” Mr. Edwards said. “So if you step outside that circle, somebody enters, we have to re-mask and the story continues.”
Even though everyone has been wearing masks since February, they still cause complications for the students while they act and sing. “Masks can be pretty frustrating with makeup and hair getting caught and singing, but we have been able to work the masks into the show,” Camryn Rowe (‘22), who played Logainne SchwartzandGrubenierre, said.
COVID-19 affected the pit musicians as well. Pit musicians were given “In the Heights” sheet music to practice over the summer; however, because the musical was changed last minute, the musicians had to learn the new pieces in a shorter period of time. “Some of the pit musicians had already prepared the pieces, so that was sad, but it is inevitable,” pit director and piano player April Wang (‘22) said.
Because of social distancing restrictions, only 250 people were allowed in the audience per show, although the auditorium can seat up to 650. “I’m sad because it is [a smaller audience], but I am way more thankful for our circumstances [compared to other places], especially at TAS,” Mr. Edwards said.
The musical also had an interactive feature in which audience members were asked to go on stage and join the actors to compete in the spelling bee. “I love the idea of it being interactive with the audience, and I’m sure people would love seeing their teachers and parents up on stage,” Camryn said. Upper School Principal Mr. Andrew Lowman took the stage during the opening night performance and pretended to know the dance moves of the cast during musical numbers. Dr. Grace Dodge, Interim Head of School, also gave a comedic performance at the Friday night show.
Despite all the frustrations and struggles with COVID-19, the cast and crew tried their best to put on an entertaining show and to make their experience worthwhile. “Everyone is being super positive,” Camryn said, fondly. “They’re doing a really good job of taking what they can get
and making the best of it.”