Bear Necessity Produces Play During Pandemic

From+left+to+right%3A+Mason+Huddleson+%2811%29+and+Riley+Burton+%2810%29+enact+their+characters+in+a+hilariously+problematic+blind+date.

Photo by Anna Glen

From left to right: Mason Huddleson (11) and Riley Burton (10) enact their characters in a hilariously problematic blind date.

By Luxe Palmer, co-Editor-in-Chief

As you most certainly know by now, this school year looks like no other. With the COVID-19 pandemic happening, and worldwide restrictions on distancing, activities, and anything else you could imagine, the last thing one would expect to pull through is the school play. But with a bit of clever maneuvering, the PRHS Bear Necessity Theatre Company did just that.

This year, instead of a two-act musical, theatre director Josh Belk decided to put on a two-part play lasting approximately 45 minutes. Check Please and Check Please, Take Three tells the tales of four out-of-luck, out-of-love people on their quest to find the perfect partner. Their method? Blind dating. Finding themselves across the tables from the most… unique individuals out there, it takes a stroke of chance for the main characters to find their own true love.

If the characters in the play needed a stroke of chance, the formatting of the play took a stroke of genius. Mr. Belk explained how he navigated having two different cohorts put on a single play, saying, “The biggest difficulty stemmed from having to maintain cohort integrity. We worked through how to do a performance when half the group is not in school on any given day. We also had to work through how to present to an audience, and what that would look like. We ultimately decided to perform two one-act plays–one for each cohort–that had completely separate casts and crews, and then combine them in a streaming video-on-demand service.”

 As they began rehearsing for the play back in August, Belk says, “We took temperatures each day like at the beginning of the school day, as well as asking about any symptoms. Everyone wore masks throughout the process, except during the performances, when we wore face shields. The crews were extremely small, so instead of separate crews for each technical area we had one do-everything crew.” And the overall process was very short. It felt like we just started when we ended. Rehearsals for each cohort could only happen on the days those cohorts came to school, so each group only rehearsed twice a week.”

Theatre teacher Josh Belk gives instructions to the theatre tech class

For the cohort at home in both Theatre Club and theatre class during distance-learning days, Mr. Belk took on a method similar to every other academic class: Google Meets. “Theatre practice for extracurricular theatre was all in-person, following the guidelines that we listed above.  It was rough only having two rehearsals a week for each cast.  For classes, we use as much in-class time as we can to rehearse together, and then also use google meets or other video conferencing to supplement that. It is not ideal but it lets performers see each other and hear each other.”

Putting on a play with so many pieces of the puzzle to keep track of took much time and effort from both the cast and the crew. Daily practices looked a bit different from years previous, while the lack of an audience was made up for with some new technology- namely, the new streaming service.

The final product of the play felt just as seamless as one set without restrictions, but that would not have been possible without a bit of quick thinking from Mr Belk. Since Check Please and Check Please, Take Three were put on by separate cohorts and without the possibility of having an audience, the theatre company had to devise one solution to sew two performances together. The idea? Bring the auditorium to the big screen.

Using videography and an on-demand web tool, the Bear Necessity crews filmed both performances separately and edited them together afterwards. Viewers could “rent” the play and watch it from the comfort of their own home. Though, as with everything in 2020, this new format did not come without its pros and cons.

“I like that it forces us to be creative and think about how to put on a show. ‘Necessity is the mother of invention.’ I like being forced to be creative and make things work. I very much dislike how disconnected we all felt. We had two casts that did not interact–even for the final performance. There was no live audience. There was a definite sense of separation,” said Mr. Belk.

The play was available to stream for only a few days in October. If you missed the autumn play this year- do not fret. The Bear Necessity Theatre Company is in the works of putting on a musical for the spring: “…Much of the logistics are still in the air.  We have to meet with admin to see what restrictions are still in place. We are optimistic, however.  In the words of John Steinbeck, ‘The theater is the only institution in the world which has been dying for four thousand years and has never succumbed.’ Theatre will persevere; we just have to roll with the punches,” said Mr. Belk.