Dartmouth High students pull off pandemic-era theater online

Dec 12, 2020

There may not be any thespians gracing the stage at Dartmouth High this winter, but that hasn’t stopped the Dartmouth High Theater Company from finding a way for the show to go on.

On Dec. 11, the students made their online debut with their first of three pre-recorded streams of “It’s a Wonderful Life — A Live Radio Show.”

“This year we really had to think out-of-the-box with everything,” Co-director Shirley Byers said. “The show has such a universal message — one of hope and that everyone matters. Sometimes you don’t realize how much your life impacts others.” 

A modified version of the 1946 film starring Jimmy Stewart, the story of George Bailey and the townspeople of Bedford Falls  was done from all of the students’ homes in the style of an old radio broadcast — complete with 1940s-style commercials for actual South Coast businesses.

“We usually have ads in the playbill, but not having one this year, we had to find a new way to get the community involved,” said Tara Rose, who helped coordinate the jingles. “We were very fortunate to have those businesses want to help out with our show.” 

The young thespians, much like actors and actresses around the country, had their spring productions canceled when the pandemic first hit. Then the school year started with more uncertainty surrounding how live theater would happen in 2020.

“A lot of the usual groups were not able to meet in-person,” Byers said. “We really had to figure something out.”

She noted that new pandemic-related rules made it so the entire process had to be done remotely. After trying to determine the best show do do through Google Meet, she said her fellow director, Denis Lawrence Jr., settled on the radio version holiday classic.

From there, all auditions were held online with groups having to split into different online breakout rooms for individual read . Once the cast was finalized, rehearsals continued through video chats and were done twice a week focusing on a different act of the show.

“At that point it was all about getting timing and character motivation down,” she said. “The kids did absolutely wonderful.” 

The co-director added that a big challenge of the pandemic was to give the students a theater experience that was both safe and engaging.

Based on the actors’ thoughts, it appears Byers and Lawrence succeeded.

“To also be playing such a classic character like George Bailey has been the most fun I’ve ever had,” said senior Jackson Neves. “This show is really going to bring out the Christmas spirit in a time we need it the most.”

Fellow senior Emerson Clarke, who played Mary Bailey, agreed.

“Even though this year has been drastically different from past shows, everyone involved has worked so hard to create an exciting and collaborative show that I am so lucky to be a part of,” she said.

Perhaps the biggest challenge, Byers said, was trying to finalize how the show would be streamed.

Parent volunteer Elizabeth Olimpio noted that with current technology, there were some issues with wifi connectivity and audio overlapping when multiple people tried to speak over Google Meet. 

To mitigate this, the show was pre recorded and edited together by Olimpio’s daughter Taylor, who played the role of the angel Clarence. 

Even with the early tech issues during rehearsal, Olimpio said she was “very proud” of the effort everyone put into the show and that “fingers crossed, we’ll be back on stage some time next year.”

Shows will continue with a 2 p.m. matinee Sunday and a 7 p.m. stream on Dec. 18.

Tickets are $7 for individuals or $12 for a family/group viewing. To get a ticket, visit dhstheatreco.com.