“The show must go on” is the code I have lived my life by, and one I have repeated to my students countless times. But a month ago, when our school closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, amid rehearsal for our spring musical and the Florida State Thespian Festival, I didn’t realize at first that this time the show could not go on.
School is closed for the remainder of the year; our spring musical, Chicago: High School Edition, will be postponed to the fall; and our theatre festival has been canceled. Today all of this seems insignificant as the death count mounts every day in the United States and we are all effectively quarantined in our homes. Here in Miami, Fla., the lockdown started March 17, so as I write this it’s Quarantine Day 43 and counting.
Social distancing is the new way of life. Leaving the house for necessities means wearing a mask and standing six feet apart. My heart aches as my close-knit family can only meet through FaceTime. Days at home are blurring into each other. Now more than ever, we are all searching for a little normalcy. And for our kids, normalcy means school.
Teaching theatre is a labor of love on a normal day. For the last 16 years, I have been blessed to be a teaching artist. But I have never had to teach theatre virtually. Whenever I begin to feel overwhelmed by this challenge, I remind myself that this isn’t simply working from home—it is working from home during a pandemic! Like many theatre educators, I find myself researching, reading every theatre education blog, and inventing. It’s been a re-education! The online classes are so far from what I normally do that I have had to rethink everything I do.
If challenges of teaching theatre online are many, so are the successes. My advanced theatre students had written a play collaboratively before school went virtual, called Uncensored Truths. They are now adding monologues that talk about their perspective on social distancing and the pandemic. We are planning to submit these monologues and short plays to Fantasy Theatre Factory’s TOGETHER APART Program – Youth Theatre in the Time of Coronavirus.
Now, in a world where Zoom meetings are the norm, theatre is building a bridge for our students and Broadway stars alike. I had the great honor to work with the Broadway actor/dancer Janet Dacal, whose company, Broadway Coaching, has allowed my students to learn from such veterans as Andréa Burns, Mandy Gonzalez, and Karen Olivo. The silver lining in this cloud is that my students might never have had the opportunity to work with such talented, gifted, and kind-hearted individuals. There are no people like show people! With these master classes, offered after regular class time, we have been able to extend and deepen the learning that is happening in class.
As the school year comes to a close, it has been important to me that we find a way to celebrate our theatre program the way we would have pre-pandemic. Like many high schools across our nation whose shows were canceled, it was especially difficult for my kids, who had worked so hard to prepare their spring musical. This time of the year is usually the big spring musical for schools, a celebration not only of the theatre program but the whole school. This year in its place are Zoom drama club meetings and celebrations via social media—anything we can do as educators to make this the best possible situation for our students. Our students need us.
The class of 2020 had their senior year robbed from them, so my school, Miami Country Day School, met in the comfort of our living rooms and had a senior showcase online. The virtual celebration was filled with performances, memories, and enough tears of joy to fill the ocean. The song that played at the finale echoed our sentiments: “Because I know you, I have been changed for good.”
Teaching theatre online while homeschooling my two young children with my new “co-worker” husband, all while in quarantine, has been difficult, to say the least. When I am feeling like I just can’t do it anymore, I think about the students who have thanked me, or simply needed my ear to share their concerns about COVID-19. With the uncertainty of the future looming over us all, there is one thing I know now: Sometimes the show cannot go on, at least not the way we originally planned. Yet theatre can still connect us.
Cristina Pla-Guzman, a writer and educator based in Miami, is a 2019 TCG Rising Leader of Color.
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