The Virtual Stage

The Drama Department navigates online school.

“The set is still on the stage, the costumes are still on the racks. It’s ready,” said Nicole Thompson, 13-year director and head of the Palos Verdes High School Drama Department. 

Last March, the production of Crazy for You was just two weeks from opening night when it was halted by COVID-19.

  Drama is a very personal and physical group. Virtual learning has affected the local arts and Thompson’s program to the point where “some things don’t work,” Thompson said. “It’s just trial and error. That’s the way life is.” 

“Part of everything we do is interaction,” Thompson said, “[Online school] really forced us to rethink how we do things [and] come up with a lot of new, but wonderful, curriculum.” 

Thompson quickly found that activities like interactive drama games and singing didn’t hold up in the virtual world. 

“We just can’t sing together, we can’t even sing happy birthday together,” Thompson said.

Senior Hayden Kharrazi agreed. “It’s very hard to communicate with one another through acting and singing because there is that delay. Drama [is] a very synchronized thing… it’s really difficult to do that virtually.” 

Nevertheless, the virtual drama classes have shed light on numerous activities that may continue after COVID-19. 

Students have dressed up in costumes to record musical dance snippets using TikTok, and the department has even used Minecraft for blocking rehearsals.

Mostly focused on theater and stage in the past, the PVHS Drama Department is now exploring camera and film studies, which have allowed seniors applying for theater degrees to work more in-depth on their prospective college’s theater program application process. 

“Now, [self-tapes] are integrated into my program,” Thompson said. “Because we’ve perfected it through this medium, we have better sound, we know how to frame, we know how to light… they’re going to go out and audition for these colleges and do these pre-screen auditions even better now.” 

Although students aren’t able to get the “vibe” through the in-person auditions and interviews, there are positives to this virtual setup. 

“You’re not paying for flights, there’s a decrease in fees, you can do [the auditions] from the comfort of your home… it takes off some of the pressure,” senior Dori Rich said. 

The PVHS Drama Department’s rehearses their production of Crazy for You virtually. Photo courtesy of Nicole Thompson

Students who previously could only afford the pre-screen are now able to fully apply to the school from their home. 

“I think there’s going to be a lot more people auditioning this year [to schools local and farther away] since you don’t have to pay as much,” Rich said. 

To Kharazzi, the pros of a virtual application process outweigh the cons, as an applicant has full control over the sound and light setup. 

“The entire world of entertainment has changed, not just high school theater,” Kharazzi said. “We’re learning to adapt.”

The department plans to perform Crazy For You with the original cast, crew and pit members in May 2021. 

“Even if we are allowed to have only 50 people in there, I will take the 50 people,” Thompson said. 

“Much like Crazy for You, this is about perseverance. This is about coming together to create art and the power of that art to bring a community together.”

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