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As community events continue to cancel throughout the summer, those involved in community youth theater through Play Inc. Arts were excited to participate in the 2020 season.
“We have three summer programs and all programs were filmed for digital streaming this year,” said Play Inc. Arts President Aaron Knudsvig.
“The youngest group did a collection of Dr. Seuss characters and stories and their videos are available for watching on our Facebook page,” Knudsvig said. “The middle school group is premiering a brand-new musical from two New York-based writers called ‘Sing Out, America!’ that will be available for purchased streaming on Showtix4u.com from Aug. 14-23. Our cast is currently the only group to have performed this show, and it was being written and rewritten based on our cast and our experiences.
“The high school performed a musical called ‘The Theory of Relativity’ which explores the connections between people (ironic in a quarantined world) and is available for purchased streaming at the same website and dates as ‘Sing Out, America,’ ” Knudsvig added.
The shows, all new for Knudsvig and the directors, were different than what they’d normally pursue during a regular summer of theater, but each show worked extremely well for the circumstances.
“I don’t think any of the shows would have been things we would have pursued in a different year because they are much shorter than what we typically do, but that is a benefit for streaming,” Knudsvig said.
In addition to the change in shows, the program also focused on allowing only past theater participants to participate in this year’s summer theater in order to keep the cast sizes of an appropriate size.
“Cast sizes were all smaller this year. Typically we have about 120 kids involved in the summer shows. This year we had about 70. My high school group of 30 was split into two different casts — with the guys performing in both shows,” Knudsvig said.
While Knudsvig knew he wanted to allow the show to go on and summer theater to experience normalcy throughout the pandemic, he and the rest of the directors knew it wouldn’t be an easy feat and that things would be limited even in addition to the limited cast.
“The five directors met every week for over a month to discuss what we could do, what we couldn’t do, and those plans changed from week to week,” Knudsvig said. “In the end, we knew the kids needed something to do even if it wasn’t what we always do. A lot of thought went into the decision and safety procedures.”
Social distancing, masks, online streaming of the productions and adapting to the natural scenery around them were some of the major changes for the cast and crew.
“The middle school and high school shows literally were decided less than two weeks before we started production. All of the people involved with rehearsals were very thoughtful in adapting to our COVID safety procedures. We just didn’t want to take any chances,” Knudsvig said.
Knudsvig and the directors of each of the shows were appreciative of the flexibility of the families, participants as well as the community throughout the adventure.
“I think everybody involved was very flexible. Typically shows are chosen months to a year in advance and directors have time to think and plan,” Knudsvig said.
“The whole experience this year was something different. From rehearsing outside to singing with masks on to not actually doing a live performance for an audience. The filming process was unique and fun, but not the same as doing a show for a real audience. It’s the first time I’ve done a show and left wondering what it was going to look like. Thankfully we had Scott and Melissa Niederkorn of SN Productions to film and mix our shows,” Knudsvig added.
Although the changes and adaptations allowed for a summer youth theater year like no other, it was different for not only the cast and crew, but for Knudsvig and the other directors as well.
“Like I said, nothing was like it’s been before. It never had that comfortable routine of the previous 15 seasons, and yet it felt exactly the same at certain moments,” Knudsvig said.
“One of my favorite things was the space for the high school performance was the outdoor courtyard at Cambridge Middle School. We colored the whole thing with sidewalk chalk. It was so fun watching the high schoolers color the ground with chalk. The weather was beautiful for filming, and then just like every other musical it was gone — instead of a set strike at the end of the show, the rain came the day after we wrapped and the hours of coloring was washed away,” Knudsvig added.
The rehearsal spaces were used much more than previous years, and instead of gathering the community into the Performing Arts Center, they were invited to enjoy the show from the comfort of their own homes.
“With things changing still every day, I try not to get my head set on anything concrete, but of course I wish to be back to full performances for an audience that laughs and applauds,” Knudsvig said.
But for this year’s performances, “Buy our shows on Showtix4u.com. There will also be several other opportunities to donate over the next year, to keep the programs going in this time where we can’t put on shows,” Knudsvig added.
For more information on Play Inc. Arts, visit www.playinconline.org or follow Play Inc. Arts on Facebook.