Below is an article originally published by Greenwich Time.
It’s difficult, when acting via Zoom, not to focus too intently on oneself. But Charlotte Burchetta, a junior at Sacred Heart Greenwich, found that trying to ignore her movements, which she could see in a corner of her screen in real time, helped her to stay in the moment and alleviate inhibitions that can be a detriment in theater.
“It took a while,” said Burchetta, who is playing the lead in her school’s upcoming production of “Annie.” “At first I found myself looking at myself like, ‘What am I doing?’ But then I adjusted after a couple weeks, a few rehearsals. I started blocking myself out and looking at everyone else.”
It was just one small change among many that were made this year by Burchetta, her classmates and the show’s director, Sacred Heart drama teacher Michaela Gorman, to save the annual production from cancellation amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
According to Gorman, about 70 percent of the production, which was edited into a video and will be shown April 10 and April 11, was shot remotely, via Zoom. For the 30 percent that occurred in person, special arrangements had to be made.
“I think this year obviously it’s been necessary for us all to be more creative and innovative in the way we think about theater,” Gorman said. “The pandemic has totally disrupted this art form.”
Masks, naturally, were required. And dance numbers were practiced outside, with adapted choreography that ensured proper distancing. And for the parts of the production done virtually, students had to learn a new kind of stage direction.
Actors learned to use their computer cameras for comedic or dramatic effect — moving closer or farther, or in and out of the screen — and had to constantly remain aware of where their scene partners were in relation to them on a monitor.
“The environment changed,” said junior Zoe Young, who plays Grace Farrell, the assistant to Daddy Warbucks in “Annie.” “We would usually be in the theater together as one, whereas we had to adapt to having rehearsals through the screen and not having that physical connection. Also, we had to be a lot more wary of our movements and our actions, because we had to fit everything in one square and make sure no details were lost in our movements.”
According to Piper Gilbert, who plays Daddy Warbucks, physical scenes done virtually had to be carefully choreographed within those squares so that the action — whether a hug, a push or a slap — from one actor was correctly aimed at another, who had the difficult job of reacting while alone in her room.
And, all acting aside, Gorman encountered another, unanticipated challenge. During the pandemic, rights to productions became increasingly difficult to obtain, limiting her options for the production. But what she ended up with in “Annie” ultimately felt befitting of the moment.
“The message of it, on some level, can seem really saccharine and trite,” Gorman said. “But I think sort of as we were working on the production a thing that started to stand out to me was the idea that being hopeful during a difficult time isn’t childish or trite.”
At the beginning of the year amid so much COVID-related uncertainty, Gorman said she wasn’t sure if there would be any theatrical performances at all. Even as concessions were made and strategies were developed to enable both the spring musical and a fall drama (they performed Shakespeare’s “Much Ado about Nothing”), Gorman said she was prepared to have disappointed students.
What she saw instead was an incredible show of resiliency among her actors.
“Even though we’ve been on zoom and bonding as a cast has been more difficult, but I think we’ve all done a very good job of keeping energy up,” Burchetta said. “Even though it’s different, it’s felt kind of the same.”
“As a cast we always make the most out of any given circumstance, no matter what,” Young added. “We keep moving forward with positive energy and put that into everything we do.”
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