Show goes on at Washougal High

Drama students to perform virtual ‘War of the Worlds’

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Washougal High School drama student Elijah Mitchell-Hopmeier performs during the school's performance of "War of the Worlds: The Panic Broadcast," which will be available for viewing on the Broadway on Demand website March 19-21. (Contributed photo courtesy of Marcus Bennett)

The show goes on for Washougal High School’s theater students

The high school drama department’s first performance of the 2020-21 school year, “War of the Worlds: The Panic Broadcast,” will stream on the Broadway On Demand website Friday through Sunday, March 19-21. Viewers can buy tickets for $2.95 for one day’s worth of viewing.

Washougal drama teacher Kelly Gregersen said he wanted his students to experience the “normality of getting together and doing a play.”

“Having camaraderie after school, where they can joke around and be with each other, even though it was through Zoom screens, and putting a show together feels a little more like normal life for them,” Gregersen said.

The drama instructor asked students in the fall of 2020 if they might be interested in producing a virtual play. After receiving an enthusiastic response, Gregersen gave them a few options and let the students choose the play.

They selected “War of the Worlds: The Panic Broadcast,” written by Joe Landry to mark the 80th anniversary of Orson Welles’ 1938 radio narration of H.G. Wells’ novel “The War of the Worlds,” a broadcast remembered for causing panic among its listening audience. Landry’s play retells the story of the infamous evening on stage, incorporating live sound effects, music and vintage commercials.

“I think the students liked the fact that it had some dramatic pieces to it,” Gregersen said. “We had done ‘Ten Ways to Survive a Quarantine’ last spring, so I think they wanted to do something that had a little bit more of a bite to it. This really makes the point of not panicking based on news that comes from the media at all times and being cautious about what you believe, and let’s face it — right now that just kind of feels very prescient. And I think they liked the radio format of it.”

After weeks of rehearsals, 16 students recorded their lines in front of green screens in late January.

“I love them getting the experience of doing a different kind of performance,” Gregersen said. “A radio show in itself is a different type of performance, and to be doing it solo in front of a camera with a green screen behind you is completely different. I think they enjoyed it. We rehearsed it like a play, so they had someone to bounce their lines off of, and then they came in and (were told), ‘OK, you’re going to read this line,’ just them alone in front of a camera. I think that it took them out of some of those rhythms from theater. It was much more of a movie in that way.”

Gregersen then spent several weeks piecing together all of the individual performances into a cohesive narrative. He was assisted by Marcus Bennett, a former Washougal High theater student who now works as a video producer and editor.

“(Putting the play together) was just a very slow process,” Gregersen said. “First we had to put every line in order, pulling from 16 different tracks of performance. That was certainly the longest part. Then we trimmed each piece so there’s no big lag in between — somebody says something and somebody else immediately responds. Then we went in and did the sound effects and such. (Lastly), we did all of the green-screening. There was a lot of work behind the scenes.”

Washougal students recently returned to the high school building for hybrid in-person learning, and the drama department plans to host its next performance — an adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel, “Emma” — at the high school’s Washburn Performing Arts Center in May.

“I won’t be able to have the big number of students that I’m used to, but we’ll be able to have a small cadre that comes in and actually gets to put together a show after school,” Gregersen said. “I’m sure we’ll still have some people Zooming in for different reasons, but I think we’ll have more people physically together on the stage, socially distanced and wearing masks, doing it safely. Watching my classes come back in and enjoy the camaraderie of being together (has been) wonderful.”

JMS students to present radio plays March 25-28

Jemtegaard Middle School’s Soundstage club will present two radio plays — “Inspector Rufflethorpe: The Twitshyre Murder Case” and “Life’s Little Ups and Downs” — on the Washougal School District website March 25-28.

Both plays were written by Anthony Palermo.

“‘Twitshyre’ is a Sherlock Holmes-style show. The kids had to learn British accents,” said Jemtegaard teacher and Soundstage advisor Diana Larson. “‘Life’s Little Ups and Downs’ is like a 1950s soap opera. It is full of twists and turns in the life of a housewife, a comedy filled with life’s tragedies in a small town. I chose the themes for the entertainment value and to help the students gain self-confidence and experience the joy of working together as a group to create something positive.”

The shows will feature Soundstage students, as well as Washougal schools superintendent Mary Templeton, Jemtegaard principal David Cooke, and Jemtegaard teachers Scott Hoisington, Scott Rainey and Nathan Keller.