Performance will be available on-demand and online Saturday and Sunday
The stage is now a screen.
The performance is virtual.
Still, theater is theater.
That’s what students at Ridgefield High School have learned while creating their 2020 version of a masterpiece.
This weekend, they will debut It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play with an online production.
“It was definitely a big change from what we’re all used to,” said Peter Schafer, who plays George Bailey. “We all had to adapt and overcome, use the resources we had and make the best thing we could out of it.”
Cameron McGravey, who plays Mary Hatch Bailey, said it was a new challenge.
“I think it worked out good with the circumstances we’re in in the world right. I’m just glad we have the platform to do a virtual play and still go on.”
It’s a Wonderful Life will stream Dec. 12 and 13. Use the code RHSAccess to watch for free:
Ridgefield theater players, much like actors and actresses throughout the country, had their spring productions cancelled when COVID-19 hit last academic year. Then this school year started with more unknowns.
Well, at Ridgefield, they knew one thing was certain.
“There’s no way we’re not going to do something this year,” said Kaitlyn St. John, the stage manager for this production.
They were inspired by Kaitlyn Etter, teacher and head of the theater department at Ridgefield. She asked the students to think bold.
This weekend, the work of more than 40 students will come to life, not on the big stage, but on a screen. The production is “on-demand” both days.
“We really wanted to make something happen,” Etter said. “I was just doing a lot of research. What can we make in a format that might have to be completely virtual?”
She came across an adaption of the movie, but in the style of a 1940s radio play. With using 2020 technology, there was this interesting opportunity to present a radio play but also show the performers on a platform such as Zoom.
At the same time, Etter said, they did not want to use the computer for sound effects. So crewmembers figured out how to make the sound of someone walking down the hall, or the sound of a rotary phone. They did so using whatever they could find around their homes.
The performers also showed off their talent, from home, in front of cameras.
“You get to see a whole new side of acting. You get to see acting, by yourself, at home, online,” St. John said.
“It almost looks like a Zoom call, and it’s supposed to look like we’re doing it live on a Zoom call,” McGravey said.
Still, it is a radio play. Sound takes center, er, stage.
“It adds an emphasis on voice acting,” Schafer said. “That was really important in the show.”
There are 21 students in the cast and 22 on the technical crew.
St. John, as the stage manager, had crews trying to come up with creative ways to make this happen. They asked the performers to describe the type of lights they have in their homes. They tried to come up with color schemes for characters. And, of course, they had to listen for that perfect sound.
Last spring, most of these students were working on bringing Cinderella to the stage at Ridgefield High School.
Schafer said it was a heartbreaker when that production was closed before it could even begin. McGravey said it was sad.
St. John was going to play the Fairy Godmother. She had worked so hard to get the character just right. Then it all stopped. A bummer, she said.
The students also took an optimistic approach. They were all so busy, they said they did appreciate the forced break from school, homework, and, yes, the production. All of that takes up a lot of time.
After a week or so, they missed their friends. They missed the theater.
Now as seniors, the three are helping to lead the other 40 students into this production that no one ever planned on just eight months ago.
St. John has been interested in theater since she was in elementary school. When she got to high school, she found out there was a tech side of theater. She was all-in.
McGravey always loved singing and dancing and started rehearsing for plays when she was in the fourth grade. She loves high school theater but is not expected to make it a career. Maybe community theater for fun.
It is possible you might one day see Shafer on broadway or on a movie screen.
He was convinced by his choir teacher to give theater a shot. (It should be noted that at Ridgefield, it is a theater department, not a drama department.)
“It completely changed my experience in high school for the better,” Shafer said. “It gave me a passion, and a family at my school.”
He hopes to make a career of it.
This weekend, it is all about being the best George Bailey he can be, under these bizarre circumstances. He has seen the movie.
“My approach … I wanted to make it my own,” he said, rather than try to copy Jimmy Stewart. “I do a lot of script analysis. How does this character act? I use my experience to back it up and tell it as truthfully as I can.”
For McGravey, this is practically a dream come true. Her family tradition is to watch the movie every Christmas day.
“To be able to share my Christmas memories with everyone just really means a lot,” she said. “In times like these, we all need a little bit of hope in our lives. Watching a wonderful show with family and friends, it is what we need right now.”
St. John has not seen the movie, but she plans to watch … but only after Ridgefield’s run with the play is complete.
The “livestream” premieres Saturday, and the Ridgefield performers are excited to showcase their art to the community.
“We still got to do what we love to do, even if we’re not in-person,” McGravey said.
“I was so happy to do the show,” St. John said. “Even if no one watches it, it was so much fun to see my friends again and all my theater people.”
Schafer said he learned a lot about the nature of theater. Less than a year ago, the idea of the theater was to sit in an auditorium and watch a show on stage — live. Now, it can mean something else.
“The definition of theater is constantly changing,” Schafer said.
Ridgefield performers have adapted and triumphed.