The yellowing leaves rustle in the trees as a party stands frozen in combative positions. Two stand together forming an arc with their feet rooted in the ground with their fists almost touching a beautifully hostile pose. One more stands with their fists raised, watching for one of their two opponents to strike. Nothing moves except the leaves and the grass.
“Alright, that’s good. But can you--yeah, you right there in the corner--can you move a little to the left?”
The teenagers unfreeze from their position and a light chatter follows as they sigh in relief. Ms. Palmer, one of the directors of the Dexter Drama’s production of Sherwood, makes the correction while her students put on yet another layer of hand sanitizer before resetting the scene.
The cast and crew are on one of their most difficult adventures yet: an adventure with a deadly disease, enough rules to give a safety manager a headache, and a tight-knit community coming together to fight a common enemy. Oh, and they’re also putting on a show.
The show itself is phenomenal. Sherwood, starring Jackson Helmholtz, starts with the spoiled noble known as Robinhood doing the exact opposite of struggle. As Maggie Needham (who plays Friar Lawrence) puts it: “he’s kinda a womanizer,” until his parents go off to war he witnesses the malevolence of poverty.
Then, through many, many trials, sex jokes (nearly every person interviewed mentioned the sex jokes), and acts of murder, Robinhood begins to steal from the rich and give to the poor. Elizabeth Champion, Ms. Palmer’s director, describes the show:
“beautifully written--it’s thrilling, it’s hilarious--just that these kids are doing an amazing job and their dedication and putting up with all of the differences has been… amazing.”
And she wasn’t kidding about the actors’ determination. They’re outside working on this production rain or shine. They made a beautiful setting complete with the autumnal leaves of October in the back of the high school, and it is perfect for such a daring outdoors tale. Unfortunately, being outdoors comes with its problems. The cast is outside on warm fall days where you sweat from being outside and they’re still practicing on bone-numbingly cold rainy days.
Noelle Whipple, the production stage manager who is also head of streaming, lights, and crew, and the tech liaison, has had many changes to her normal duties. In previous shows, she mainly tackled attendance and schedule conflicts, and her goal was simply to get everyone on stage.
Now that the drama club is actively trying to protect its members, her list of duties has grown.
“You have to make sure everyone gets their temperature taken, everyone’s wearing masks, everybody does their Covid form. And then, on stage, nobody’s taking off their masks, everybody’s trying to stay somewhat distanced, and if they do end up touching each other you have to put hand sanitizer on them immediately.” —Noelle Whipple
She isn’t the only one struggling. Many actors expressed having difficulty conveying and receiving emotions while wearing masks. When humans emote, our eyes, eyebrows, lips, and cheekbones are among the most important things to gauge. Unfortunately for the actors, the masks they are required to wear cover their lips and cheekbones and a pair of foggy glasses can completely hide the majority of their faces.
To compensate, the actors have had to learn a more dynamic and moving style of acting for this show that is different from their preferred styles. Even the costume crew is struggling to make ends meet. The two representatives I spoke with explained that they’re constantly disinfecting costumes and they need “to hand sanitize every two seconds” because their job sometimes requires them to get close to the actors. The worst part for the costumes crew is that they can’t meet up as often to get organized and now they’re going to be doing their last-minute touches all at once.
Everything has changed this year, and many schools across the United States are unable to put on any productions at all, but DHS is fortunate enough to be able to social distance and disinfect their area constantly. Scenes that would come normally to actors now have to be approached from a new direction, yet everyone I spoke to was willing to put up with the restrictions for a chance to be on stage again. This show is going to be put on by people who truly love theatre and acting, and they will do just about anything to make this show run smoothly. That’s why Toni Butka, head of publicity, aims to get as many people to buy tickets to the show as possible and is trying to get the Dexter Community to buy tickets as well as national and international viewership.
Dexterdrama.org Julianne Peters