Zoom rehearsals and livestreams: School musicals have a new look this year

Erin Bamer
York Dispatch
Sophomore Emma White, who plays Belle, rehearses opening scene of Dallastown Area High School's production of "Beauty and the Beast Junior"

The cast of Dallastown Area Middle School's production of "Freaky Friday The Musical" spent more than half of their rehearsal time practicing over Zoom.

Students practiced their songs and choreography virtually during the first five weeks of rehearsals, according to the musical's director, Vannesa Trauger. The show opens Thursday and will be viewed virtually, with audience members watching the production via a prerecorded livestream. 

Across York County, schools are preparing their spring musicals while balancing the added obstacles of doing so during a pandemic. Dallastown Area High School is preparing to premiere two musicals in April that will also be available to watch through a livestream.

Other school districts are taking a different approach to performances. South Eastern School District, for example, will hold performances of its high school musical, "Swingtime Canteen," in March, offering tickets for both in-person and digital viewing, according to a news release. 

Melissa Porrovicchio, secretary to the South Eastern superintendent, said in an email that the school's auditorium will be at 10% of its regular capacity to allow students a sense of normalcy in performing for a live audience. Audience members will be seated more than six feet apart, and everyone must wear a mask, she said. 

Dallastown Area Middle School just finished recording its show, and Trauger said it was more stressful than performing a live production. She said the cast had to record the show's opening scene, one of the longest scenes in the show, multiple times, and she felt more pressure to get everything right. 

More:Closer Look: A year into COVID pandemic, York County teachers face exhaustion

Student Julie Cioffi, 14, said the show was recorded less like a live production and more like a film, with long breaks between each scene.

Though the high school hasn't recorded its shows yet, student cast members said they expect the process to lack the same thrill as performing in front of an audience. 

"We definitely won't have the same energy," said 18-year-old Riley Sharp. 

However, student Milana Schechtman, 18, said the experience is useful to some students who are interested in pursuing a career in the film industry. 

Both the high school and middle school shows conducted many of their rehearsals over Zoom. Trauger said the middle school began rehearsals in November and didn't start rehearsing in person until January because of school closures and winter break. 

Student Jules Gutekunst, 13, said the Zoom rehearsals brought many challenges. Actors couldn't learn their moves with their scene partners, and it was difficult to practice group songs.

"Everybody couldn't unmute and start singing, or else it would be total chaos," Jules said. 

Because of this, Trauger said it was relief when in-person rehearsals began in January and most students knew their material. Students at the middle school and high school rehearsed their shows with masks on and with sanitizers readily available, according to Amy Anderson, musical director for the high school. 

The high school shows are also different this year in that there are multiple musicals, each with a smaller cast than usual.

The shows, "Beauty and the Beast Junior" and "Frozen Junior," have 28 and 32 cast members, respectively, Anderson said. Usually, she said, the high school performs one spring musical with up to 70 students in the cast. 

From left to right: Junior Maddie Gorski, playing LeFou, Senior Riley Sharp, playing Gaston, and Sophomore Emma White, playing Belle, rehearse a scene in Dallastown Area High School's production of "Beauty and the Beast Junior."

There is a lot of crossover between the casts. Sharp will perform as both Gaston in "Beauty and the Beast Junior" and Elsa in "Frozen Junior." Student Collin Snyder, 18, said this gives students the opportunity to explore multiple roles at once. 

Last year, Dallastown Area High School's musical was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Schechtman said it was important to her and the rest of the cast that they had the opportunity this time. 

"We've already lost so much this year," Schechtman said. 

More:COVID-19 tracking varies widely among York County schools

For middle school student Julie and castmate Sophia Papayannis, 14, participating in the musical is especially important because they attend their classes fully remote. Rehearsals were one of the only opportunities each of them had to get social interaction with their classmates. 

"I just needed to be with people and socialize," Sophia said. 

Upcoming musicals:

Dallastown Area Middle School: "Freaky Friday The Musical," Feb. 25-28, March 4-7. Tickets available online.

York Suburban Middle School: "Annie Jr,": Feb. 26-27. Tickets available at www.showtix4u.com/event-details/45246

York Suburban High School: "Singin' in the Rain," March 5-6. Tickets available at www.showtix4u.com/event-details/47207.

Kennard-Dale High School: "Springtime Canteen," March 4-7. Tickets available online and at the door. 

West York High School: "Mary Poppins Jr,": March 5-7. Tickets available at www.showtix4u.com/event-details/46544

Dallastown Area High School: "Beauty and the Beast Junior,": April 8-11, April 15-17. Tickets not available yet. "Frozen Junior," April 29 - May 3. Tickets not available yet.

Hanover High School: "Frozen Junior," April 16-18. Tickets not available yet. 

York Catholic High School: "Vintage Hitchcock: A Live Radio Play," April 16-18. Tickets not available yet. 

Spring Grove Area High School: "The Little Mermaid Junior," April 23-25. Tickets not available yet. 

Susquehannock High School: "Addams Family," April 30 - May 1. Tickets not available yet. 

York Country Day Upper School" "Freaky Friday: One Act Edition," May 7-8. Tickets not available yet.