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The show must go on

CCA’s drama dept. makes major shift for fall play to abide by COVID-19 restrictions

TIFFIN– Improvisation is a skill actors must learn, and comes in handy when fellow actors forget their lines. But what happens when a worldwide pandemic still has a firm grip, resulting in a host of restrictions and limitations; and your best-scripted plan for a fall play doesn’t fit?
You improvise.
For the Clear Creek Amana (CCA) High School’s drama department, this week’s fall play will be quite different than what was originally envisioned. First, the Clipper thespians were looking at “The Laramie Project,” a play about the murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay University of Wyoming student, in Laramie, Wyo. Then, it was decided to tackle “26 Pebbles,” a docudrama about the 2012 school shooting in Newton Conn. (known as “Sandy Hook”). However, due to social distancing requirements, staging the show, with a large cast made up of students, teachers and community members (the setting is a town hall meeting six months after the incident), the logistics of staging such a production became too much of an uphill battle, said director Tom Milligan.
“Our auditorium holds 800, but we’ve been limited to only 30 percent occupancy, that’s 200,” he said. “How do you social distance (a large cast)? It just became too large to take on at this time.”
Instead, Milligan and Deb Kennedy came up with the “CCA Radio Show” with a 10-person cast well spaced out across the stage in a recreation of a 1940s radio show. “We wanted to do something with a small cast that could do social distancing and meet all guidelines,” Milligan explained. The format, which includes cast members holding the script, like old time radio performers would, means any actor can quickly and easily step into another role if need be. With absenteeism and quarantined students a daily fact of life, having the full cast available at any given time has been iffy at best, and not something, which can be relied on with any degree of certainty.
“The kids really, really wanted to do something,” Milligan said, pointing out how few extracurricular activities, other than sports, have been available in response to the virus crisis. “We wanted to give these kids an opportunity to perform.”
Doing so however has led to “110,000 things to think about,” he said. On top of creating a whole new show on the fly, and dealing with mitigation guidelines, Milligan and Kennedy also faced an obstacle on the stage itself. In order to provide adequate spacing, the band and concert band now meet on the stage, filling much of the available space.
“So, we’re going to perform in front of the curtain,” he said.
The limited audience will be treated to two murder mysteries, one by Agatha Christie, and the other an episode from “The Thin Man” movies. “The Thin Man” was a series of murder mysteries featuring former detective Nick Charles, his wife Nora, and their dog Asta, which premiered in 1934. Period-correct “commercials” will be performed as well as the Abbott and Costello classic “Who’s on First?”
In compliance with the restricted seating, cast and crew will receive four tickets with the remainder sold in advance through the district’s website at https://www.ccaschools.org/Domain/2067.
Masks will be required to be worn by all in attendance, and attendees will be required to sit with their own group, distanced from other groups.
The show is set for Thursday, Nov. 12, through Saturday, Nov. 14, at 7 p.m. Seniors will be recognized on Friday, Nov. 13, and the performance will be live-streamed on the district’s YouTube channel.
Shortly after the footlights go dim for the fall play, Milligan said a “real serious decision” will have to be made about the fate of the spring musical. Last year, “Shrek the Musical” was to have taken the stage, and rehearsals and set construction were well underway when Gov. Kim Reynolds ordered schools to close for the remainder of the school year. Milligan and Kennedy tentatively planned to try again this coming spring, if the COVID situation allows. Again, however, trying to fit a large cast and pit orchestra within the public health guidelines may prove too great a challenge.
Even for a large green ogre.