University High School shifts outdoors to stage play

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If University High School was going to have its fall play, the timetable would be tight.

The decision was made that any performance would have to be outside during the COVID-19 pandemic because the school’s indoor theater was too small for social distancing and delaying the play too long could create issues with colder temperatures.

“I normally run the play the last weekend of October, which means the kids normally would’ve had three or four extra weeks to settle into school,” said University theater teacher Callie Hartz, who directed the play. “We had auditions six days into the school year. The kids had a total of 17 rehearsals, and that included the three dress rehearsals.”

University staged its play, “Clue,” Oct. 1-3 on the soccer field at the Carmel school.

Senior Daniel Vesper was just pleased there was a show.

“The experiences for the other actors and I of doing theater outside and inside really aren’t that different,” he said. “The only major difference is the variability of weather.”

That was a factor on opening night when temperatures were cooler, and it rained.

“But the show went on, and I seriously do not know professional actors who could’ve pulled off what these high school kids did that night,” Hartz said “They did not miss a beat. I literally went out to my car after we packed up for the night and sat in the parking lot and just cried with pride.”

Keeping distance on the stage was one of the biggest challenges for Vesper, a Carmel resident.

“There were definitely many difficulties with having to perform socially distanced, but all of them were manageable and worth dealing with since it meant we were able to have the production,” Vesper said.

Vesper played the role of Wadsworth.

“Wadsworth is a butler, so there are times in the story where I have to greet people or take their coats, which was difficult to do with social distancing,” he said. “The other major problem is when we were supposed to move dead bodies across the stage, we were unable to do so because we couldn’t touch each other, so we had to just have the dead bodies get up and walk across the stage.”

Elsie McNulty said presenting the show outdoors was a new experience for the entire cast.

“We all learned new things about both the thrills and hardships of outdoor theater with every rehearsal and performance,” McNulty said. “(Hartz) told us that outdoor theater is one of the most common first gigs for young performers, so I feel better equipped for future performing opportunities.”

McNulty, who played Mrs. White, said she initially was concerned there would be not be any plays this school year.

“Would we be acting with masks on?” she said. “How would all of us be able to occupy one stage? How would the audience be socially distanced? It all just seemed unfeasible and being a senior who has done every production since freshman year, this made me really sad. So, when I learned that we would be doing an outdoor show, I was elated.”

McNulty said the cast had to be extra cautious while blocking or moving around the stage with the other actors.

“Our instincts tell us to get close to others or touch them in order to convey emotion or mood, so it was difficult to ignore those impulses,” McNulty said. “We had to get pretty creative with some scenes that called for physical contact. We operated as a hive mind to come up with ideas and ways around those problems.

“We made choices we never would have made if the pandemic didn’t call for it, and sometimes they were funnier than what we would have done if we could touch.”


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