Zoom Becomes a Stage: Junior High’s “Dear Edwina Jr.” BY Mia gustavson

Photo courtesy of Minnesota Playlist

In spite of seemingly endless challenges because of the Coronavirus, the eighth-grade musical theater class must put on a show. But how is it possible to perform a musical when we can’t interact with other actors or even sing?

The answer is virtually. The junior high musical theater teacher Carrie McRobbie said she chose “Dear Edwina Jr.,” because of remote learning; it is easier to do while social distancing than many other plays. One reason it is easier is that the costumes are simple and consist mostly of clothes actors already have. Another bonus about any virtual play and not just this one is that costume changes can happen instantly because they are edited out.

The play is about a girl named Edwina who gives advice. She receives letters from other kids and sings songs with her neighborhood friends answering their questions. Edwina and her friends discuss everything from setting the table to how to make friends when you don’t speak the same language.

It is still extremely difficult to put on a show in the current circumstances. For example, interactions between actors can prove problematic since we are in different locations. Even though we are in the process of transitioning into hybrid learning, musical theater students will not be allowed to sing, even six feet apart and with masks on. For that reason, the current plan is to continue with the virtual performance.

A virtual performance is when the actors film themselves acting out the scenes and singing the songs in front of green screens provided by the school. Often, the acting is filmed separately from the sound. Rob Bergenstock, the middle campus keyboarding instructor, will be editing the films and putting the whole virtual show together. The final video will show the actors in their own little boxes of film. Sometimes actors will be highlighted and the video will show only them. It should look almost like a recorded Zoom call.

“It’s a hassle. Not because of the play itself, [but] because the circumstances are against us,” eighth-grade musical student Regan Shee said.

A lot of students are having trouble hanging their green screens in a place where they are not backlit. It is also difficult to film themselves when family members cannot. Many struggle with fitting their whole body in the shot. I have struggled with acting as energetically as I would in school since I am by myself.

Acting while singing and dancing alone is hard, but it is even harder to record dialogue. It would be impossible to match the other person’s energy while having a conversation as we would do at an in-person performance, so McRobbie came up with a brilliant solution: Zooming the other person and listening to them through earbuds while recording.

“We cannot recreate the energy that exists in a classroom with your peers and teachers watching, and all of the exciting learning experiences that come with interacting on the stage with one another, but we are finding ways to grow and learn regardless,” McRobbie said.

There is no way to perfectly replicate the excitement of an in-person performance. There are some ways to make a virtual show more similar, though. For example, during scheduled performance times, there will most likely be a Zoom with the audience and cast members while the video plays, so it can have a more live feel.

Because there are a lot of unknowns right now, such as the dates of the play and if students will be allowed to film at school, McRobbie said she and her eighth-grade students have to be ready for anything.