Northwestern High School student actors, engineers and tech crew are living the old adage "the show must go on," even during a pandemic.
Their spring musical, "It's Vaudeville!" fuses classic 1920s acts with timeless tunes, all captured using cutting-edge technology. The show will be screened on YouTube for audiences to watch from a distance.
"I saw that everything else was going on. Kids were able to do their sports, and we were able to get through the drama season. I was given the option not to have a musical, but I thought there's a group of kids who kind of live for this, and we can do something," said director Mike Goodlet.
This year's production is atypical. Students deliver lines from microphones 8 feet apart on stage, pausing between jokes to leave space for a laugh track to be inserted. The show is being filmed in black and white in small segments, with just a few students on stage at a time to adhere to COVID-19 protocols. If the first take doesn't feel right, they queue it up and run through it again.
"It's almost like we're creating a movie," Goodlet said.
There are things students miss, like the live audience, and things they appreciate, such as the lack of costume quick-changes or the chance to redo a scene.
For the director, it means if a student is out on quarantine, they can move on to a different scene and production isn't halted.
"The fact that we're doing it is almost good enough for the kids," Goodlet said. "They're just happy to be able to have the chance to do it."
Script writer Mike Swift encouraged the Tigers to make the show their own. Musical numbers have been added in between the vaudeville acts — the show choir singing "Play a Simple Melody," the danceline doing the Charleston, a barbershop quartet crooning "In the Good Old Summertime," a rendition of "Maple Leaf Rag" and more. There will also be student-produced commercials for the show's major sponsors spaced into the whole show.
The new format has given rise to a need for a very technical tech crew. Students run three cameras while the performances are filmed, moving to catch different angles and lighting, before they piece it all together. Set pieces and props are needed for each scene, as well as makeup and 1920s costumes.
"My biggest mantra has been to learn as we go, not as we finish," said band director Michael Hintzman, who is working with the video tech crew. "I'm trying to avoid looking back later and thinking 'we should have done this or that differently.' This has meant trying to bring small sections of the production to a completion level before we get too far along."
The stage set-up is similar to one the high school students used to perform their fall one-act play, a radio version of "The Happy Prince," which earned the students an all-state award.
"I think that the end production will be very entertaining to those who watch it," Hintzman said. "The sketches are great examples of vaudeville comedy, and the students have done well with the music so far."
About 25 students are taking part in this year's musical, some in front of the camera, some behind it. Many of them are also involved in forensics, which starts Monday, Feb. 15. The speech competition will be done via submitted videos this year, Goodlet said.
The students are looking forward to presenting their musical, possibly as early as the end of the month. This year's production is all about providing a good, if different, experience for students and community members.
"There were some really sad looks on faces at the beginning of the year when they came to me and said 'Are we going to be able to do drama and musical?' And when I was able to say 'Yes,' their frown was turned upside down," Goodlet said. "We're the creative thinkers, so we get that problem and we solve it with something, so that kids can have the experience."