On Stage, On Zoom, The Show Must Go On!

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Williston tackled virtual school once again during the week of January 3, putting rehearsals for the spring musical “Mamma Mia!” in a precarious position.

Students involved in the production of “Mamma Mia!” not only took their classes through Zoom, but also learned how to rehearse a show over the platform. The show is opening February 17, leaving little room for error in the rehearsal plans. However, the production schedule was adjusted to allow for the Zoom rehearsals while still having the show ready in time for opening night.

The cast rehearsed music in small groups with music director Colin Mann on January 4 and 5. On Thursday, Jan. 6, they blocked scenes from the beginning of act two, and on Friday Jan. 7 they reviewed choreography.

The first act of the show was staged in the three weeks in between Thanksgiving and Winter break, through countless hours of long rehearsal. This new schedule has the same timeframe for the entire second act to be staged. Although most boarders returned to afternoon program in person, the cast of “Mamma Mia!” was be entirely on Zoom for last week.

The production team is confident, however, that “Mamma Mia!” can overcome this hurdle. They decided to use the remote week to keep building the show, even though it was no longer on the stage. The team even cancelled rehearsal on Saturday, January 8, to give the cast time away from their computers, allowing them to come back with full energy the following Monday (Jan. 10).

The Director of the production and of Williston’s Theatre Department, Dr. Jorge Rodriguez, said in an email that the rehearsals were fully online last week for two main reasons.

“The first one was practical: working with some actors in person and some others remotely doesn’t facilitate the work we wanted to do as easily,” he said. “If we are all on Zoom, we can see and hear each other better for read-throughs and rehearsals than if some people are in the same room and then others remote.”

He expanded that the second reason was to protect the health of the cast, sharing that he was in close contact with someone who developed Covid over the break. Although he has tested negative throughout the week, he felt that it was in the cast’s best interest to stay on the safe side with fully online rehearsals.

Dr. Rodriguez does not expect rehearsals to change significantly when they are back in person, which has proven true in the first few days of in-person school returning.

“The only change I’m anticipating is having us be masked even in the theater, at least through the next couple of weeks,” he said. “Normally, we can unmask in the theater since it’s a large space. I wouldn’t want to risk it until we know more about the surge and number of cases at the school after this week’s testing.”

According to CovidActNow, the overall risk for Hampshire County, Massachusetts, is severe, with 159.1 daily new cases per 100k and a positive test rate of 10.6%.

Dr. Rodriguez shared that the production team (which includes himself as the director, Charles Raffetto as the Technical Designer, and Ashley Tyler as the Costume Designer) has a plan for what happens if we have to return to online learning.

“I’ve not thought about [one] worst case scenario – I’ve thought of too many! And that goes for the rest of the production team. I honestly feel confident that after this week, we will be able to resume as things were before break,” he said.

Dr. Rodriguez said that he and the production team met to discussion options, saying that they have a “game plan” for what happens if Williston stays remote or if the performers have to be masked onstage.

“I think these are unlikely scenarios, but we know now how to work around them, he said. “We will implement the same protocols for audiences we did for the fall play: require masks (specifically N95 or similar), require vaccination (and booster now), block off every other row in the house.”

Dr. Rodriguez is confident in the cast, and said that in order to get through the week, they needed “patience, understanding, grace – and lots of rehearsal on their own or any castmates they have easy and safe access to on campus.”

Covid has had a tremendous impact on the theatre world as a whole. According to CNN, 12 Broadway shows shut down for brief periods of time during this surge of the Omicron variant. Shows with cancelled performances include “The Lion King,” “Hamilton,” “Dear Evan Hanson,” and “Waitress.”

Before these shutdowns, Broadway shows had returned after an 18-month hiatus due to the first major virus wave. Since then, the shows have mandated vaccinations for all audience members, cast members, crew members and other employees.

For the Williston students, however, the “Mamma Mia!” team is hoping no cancellations will be necessary.

Music director Mr. Mann said that Zoom singing rehearsals were relatively successful last week.

“We’ve managed the best we can over Zoom! Coaching one or two singers over Zoom works decently,” he said.

Although he hopes that the show can go up as scheduled, Mr. Mann said that figuring out the production timeframe is “like a puzzle. We’re always adjusting and making up time. We constantly prioritize based on the company’s needs– and it’s an evolving process.”

He believes that even though last week was difficult, the cast still made progress.

“We’ve all opened our scripts and scores. We’ve done something toward the greater cause,” he said.

Mr. Mann expressed his joy at opening a musical for the first time since 2019.

“​I am excited for my students to put on a show after two years without performing a musical at Williston,” he said. “Musicals combine our full force, and when done very well, can change a community culture.”

Belén Degener, a senior from Southampton, Mass., plays Ali and serves as the dance captain for the show, a position which requires her to “attend all of the dance rehearsals, learn all the choreography to be able to support the cast, lead review sessions and warmups, choreograph two of the dance numbers and teach them to the actors, and provide support in general when it comes to learning choreography and helping people to grow as dancers,” she said.

Although Belén said that it was difficult to dance, sing, and act online, she believes that last week was productive for the show.

“I do think that we’re actually getting quite a bit done and are still progressing despite the fact that we’re online,” she said. “Everyone is working really hard and I think will be able to pick up right where we left off when we come back in person.”

Amara Rozario, a junior from Northampton Mass., plays Sophie in “Mamma Mia!” and said that although there were definite setbacks that come with virtual rehearsal, she was pleasantly surprised with how productive virtual rehearsals were last week.

“Despite Zoom’s lag and unpredictable audio quality, I feel my one-on-one vocal lessons with Mr. Mann and dance and acting workshops with Anaia and Dr. Rodriguez have been enormously helpful,” she said.

She admits she still feels nervous about finishing the show.

“I definitely am a little anxious because we are working on such limited time– we have only one trimester to shape, rehearse, and polish this year’s musical, when in the past we have had two trimesters,” she said. “‘Mamma Mia!’ is no joke!” she added. “It is an extremely vibrant, ambitious, and dance-heavy show that requires all the focus, dedication, and hard work.”

She added that the company’s hard work thus far, as they did a full run through of Act I after only three weeks of rehearsal, “says a lot.”

“It certainly puts me more at ease knowing how driven and committed we are,” she said.

Amara is excited for being back onstage, “Making art and actually getting the chance to share it with the world… spreading joy even in the most uncertain, challenging times.”