Although the lights never fully went out on Woodinville High School Theatre Company performances, Zoom productions just never quite fit the bill as a fully adequate replacement for live theater.
When Northshore School District returned to part-time in-person instruction in March, and sports were allowed to return, theater teacher Josh Butchart got an idea.
“We said ‘hey, we’re kind of like a sport,'” the WHS Theatre Company director said.
He started inquiring about doing an outdoor show, following the same guidelines that have been provided for athletics. Thus, the spring musical "Oklahoma!” came to be. Performances are scheduled to take place at 6:30 p.m. on June 4-5 and June 10-12 in the high school parking lot, weather permitting. Tickets are sold out, but information about how to live stream the event will be at www.whstc.org
The theater company has not held an open-air production before, nor any in-person event amid a pandemic. During the nearly two months of rehearsals, a variety of safeguards were put in place to ensure the show went on while adhering to health guidelines. Only groups of about 15 to 20 students could practice together at a time, out of the more than 40-member cast, according to Producer Katharina Bomers-Muller. This proved to be a significant scheduling challenge, she said.
“We had to be very regimented,” Bomers-Muller said.
The students must remain masked the whole time, and during the performance, they try to stay as distanced as possible. The costume designer was tasked with adding fabric to the KN95 to better match their costumes, she said. If the masks get wet while the performers are singing, there are extras for them to switch into.
The technical logistics of the show have also been a new challenge for the program, Butchart said. A typical theater is a very controlled environment, he said, with built-in lighting and sound systems. Outside, it’s a different story.
He described the process of putting the show together as “sailing a boat while you’re building it." The cast and crew are also mostly younger students with less experience.
“We’re putting our toes in the water and trying to figure out how a lot of things work,” Butchart said.
But the effort has been worth it to bring the students back together and performing. Bomers-Muller said the energy at recent dress rehearsals has been palpable and much closer to what the performers are used to, instead of singing or acting in front of a screen.
“This is what they so desperately needed,” she said, “to do what they love, and to do it with the people they love to do it with.”