Washougal High thespians find online audience

Students showcase acting talents via Zoom

When Washougal High School (WHS) closed in mid-March due to COVID-19 pandemic, the school’s theater students were preparing their spring production of “The Wizard of Oz,” which, much to their disappointment, was cancelled.

“We had a huge cast, and some seniors in great roles,” said WHS theater teacher Kelly Gregersen. “It was a big, beautiful production, and they were absolutely heartbroken to have to leave that one behind.”

But eventually they decided that they wanted to find a way to show off their talents one more time before the end of the school year. Those desires led to conversations which preceded the creation of two plays which were posted to the WHS’ YouTube page last month — the Panther Players’ performance of “10 Ways to Survive Life in a Quarantine,” a topical comedy, and the second-year acting class’ “The Truth about the Truth (or Get a Job, Bob!),” an original children’s play.

“Like everything else, we were learning as we went along, and for being in such a strange new world and not really knowing what to do, I think the plays turned out great,” Gregersen said. “It was a lot of fun to be able to provide an outlet for kids to perform. These are the kind of classes that I don’t want to assign bookwork for. The kids want to have fun performing, and (virtual platforms provided them with) a great opportunity.”

“10 Ways to Survive Life in a Quarantine” is a one-act play written by Don Zolidis for the expressed purpose of online performance. The Panther Player students recorded their performances from home and sent them to senior Shane Fussell, who edited them into a coherent whole.

“It’s written almost as a series of monologues, with a couple of hosts who provide the ‘glue,'” Gregersen said. “We were able to kind of poke fun at some of these harsh realities that we’re going through. Acting can provide a great way to deal with these things. The kids looked at two or three other heavy pieces, and decided that they’d had enough ‘heavy,’ and that a comedy would be really nice.”

“The Truth About the Truth (or Get a Job, Bob!)” was brainstormed by the second-year acting class’ students, scripted by Gregersen and performed over Zoom.

“That one was certainly a learning experience. There’s some clunkiness, but on the whole it worked well. That group had a lot of fun,” Gregersen said. “It’s about a young man named Bob who has a problem with lying. Bob has two voices in his head that go back and forth — a good voice and bad voice, kind of a ‘devil and angel’ thing. Often he doesn’t listen to the ‘good voice,’ tells different people different things, and his lies come back to him at the end of the show. It’s definitely a cautionary tale.”

Gregersen said the plays –which had combined for 263 views as of Monday, July 6 — have received “a lot of wonderful feedback.”

“We’ve gotten a lot of supportive emails,” he said. “One kid said, ‘My aunt on the other side of the country was able to see me perform, which she’s never done before.’ This (virtual format allows us to do) a lot of things that we’re not able to do in a traditional show.”

Gregersen is already preparing for the 2020-21 school year, which could involve more virtual performances if students aren’t allowed back into buildings for in-person instruction.

“Right now I’m unsure of what we’ll be doing, so I’m keeping options open,” he said. “I’m in the middle of an online class that I normally attend in person every few years, the Broadway Teachers Workshop. Also, I attended (a virtual workshop) for Music Theater International, which provides group licenses for most musicals in the United States. It talked about shows that are available to stream and available on Zoom. All of the discussions during these sessions are centered around (virtual performances). Our view has been widened, and we have to look at things in a different way. I’m happy to have this training to go into next year, no matter what we end up doing.”

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