In years past, teenagers who signed up for theatre classes at The Zephyr expected to be on a live stage. This year, they ended up in the movies.
The pivot from live theatre to film was another example of The Zephyr Theatre’s ability to be nimble and responsive during the challenging year of strict coronavirus rules.
In December, auditions were held over Zoom, not in person, for a spot in the cast of “Guys and Dolls Jr.,” said Cassidy Hall, director of The Zephyr Young Actors Theatre. The 13- to 18-year-old hopefuls also submitted vocal recordings.
The 17 students in the musical comedy classic had to rehearse remotely for a few weeks. In-person rehearsals did not start until mid-February. Even then, only small-group scenes and songs — with perhaps five actors in attendance — were scheduled.
Finally in March, the entire cast — wearing face masks, adhering to social distancing, and being liberally spritzed with disinfectant — gathered at the theatre for practices.
Keeping the actors and staff safe was key. “I was called the spritz queen,” Hall said, who admitted she always had a bottle of disinfectant close at hand.
Despite all the compliance rules, “the kids were really excited to be back doing something theatrical. It was a really big deal,” Hall said. “Even the parents commented on how much the kids needed this.”
Stillwater-based theatre pro Stephen Neff was hired as music director. He helped Hall make sure all the singing, dancing, and acting came together by March 20 and 21.
On that weekend, Travis Monroe, a Stillwater-based professional videographer, filmed the cast. Monroe will edit the performance, which includes 12 songs, into a 75-minute production that will be available for streaming mid-April.
The enduring musical — debuting on Broadway in 1950 and moving to the silver screen in 1955 — tells the story of scheming gamblers Nathan Detroit and Sky Masterson, nightclub singer Miss Adelaide, and soul-saving Sarah Brown in New York City.
That production choice was a good bet for the young actors, Hall said. A few of them had seen the movie starring Frank Sinatra, Jean Simmons, and Marlon Brando, “but it was new to most of the cast,” Hall said. “And they fell in love with it.”
“What’s really cool about this musical is the storyline about two different worlds coming together,” Hall said. “In the end, the characters are not so different after all.”
And that’s not a bad message these days.
In December, The Zephyr Theatre used technology to connect with another group of young actors.
The 13- to 18-year-olds who enrolled in the Improv Troupe initially gathered for their weekly meets over Zoom. They practiced the creative art of ad-libbing when pitched different scenes, scenarios, and characters.
By March, when the actors were allowed to rehearse at the theatre, they could literally stretch out. Working for weeks over Zoom, the kids had limited their movements and reduced their space. On the stage, “we could go big,” said Cassidy Hall, who is also director of the Improv Troupe.
And the kids had a blast, she said. “They were dancing, laying down on the floor, pretending to shoot basketballs, miming lugging heavy objects. They were using the space around them in a much bigger way,” she said.
“These skills-development meets teach the students to think on their feet,” said Hall, whose improv classes come under The Zephyr Young Actors Theatre umbrella. Learning to react quickly, work with other actors, and remain within character are crucial skills for any actor, she said.
Besides, she said, it’s a lot of fun.
When coronavirus rules are lifted, Hall plans to offer monthly showcases so the Improv Troupe members can show off their acting skills in front of live audiences.
For more information about the Improv Troupe, go to stillwaterzephyrtheatre.org.
Solve a mystery
Calling all amateur sleuths. For some interactive at-home fun, Zoom into “New Neighborhood: Welcome to Running Springs,” a Clue-like murder-mystery production hosted by The Zephyr Theatre in partnership with StoryArk.
The murder-lite script, more humorous than gritty, focuses on a neighborhood get-together of new residents. The one-hour production stars six actors, but thanks to the interactive magic of Zoom, all audience members will also be party guests and then detectives. They will get to grill suspicious characters in real-time and chat among themselves in breakout rooms.
These gumshoe wannabes will have other hints at hand, too. Each ticket holder will receive a box of clues and a cocktail kit to open and puzzle over during the live event.
“New Neighborhood: Welcome to Running Springs” will be aired at 3 p.m. April 18. Tickets, which will include Zoom access and a box of clues, are $75 per household computer. Deadline for ticket sales is midnight April 9. To order tickets, go to stillwaterzephyrtheatre.org.