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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Students prepare original pandemic-themed plays at Oshkosh school


Valley Christian School

Students in theater program at Valley Christian School. (Submitted photo)

OSHKOSH, Wis. (WFRV) – Students at Valley Christian School are preparing original plays that tell their experiences in the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.

The high school production is titled, “Friends Through It All.”

The middle school production is titled, “We Did This Together.”

Longtime theater director James Hart of the school and JuBriCoSa, LTD. has the story.

“When I met with the principal of Valley Christian School just before the first day of class, neither one of us was sure where the theater department was going to go,” he says in an email. “The high school theater class, high school technical theater class and middle school theater class are all part of the curriculum for these young people. So, it’s not just about putting on a show, but also about taking something away that they can relate to real life.

“We decided that we wouldn’t do a musical at this time, but I had an idea. My idea was to let the students create something during class based on real life experiences and then become storytellers in a performance setting to the audience who will definitely relate to everything going on. To take a song title from a high school musical, ‘We’re All in This Together!’”

The high school theater class has 16 students split into two groups. Each group is writing one act for the two-act production. The middle school theater class has 20 students split into four groups. Two groups are writing Act I, and two groups are writing Act II.

“The first day of class, the students were informed that we will not be doing a musical in the fall because of the spread of the virus,” Hart says. “They were also told that their ability to be storytellers was at risk because of all of the risks involved and it was nearly impossible to re-write a show to fit in with masks, social distancing and the other challenges.

“So, we decided to write stories based on the pandemic and perform them live here on our stage at Valley Christian. This way, they can write the things into the shows that deal with their past seven months – directly from the minds and hearts of young people who have dealt with all of the adjustments, cancellations, quarantines, masks, social distancing, virtual learning.”

The school’s technical theater class is working on the technical aspects of the performances.

A full technical rehearsal is scheduled from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 24.

The high school play will be presented Nov. 6-7. The middle school play will be presented Dec. 18-19.

“We are thankful to have all classes 3K through 12 live at school every day with increased health and safety protocols in place,” Hart says.

The project has been illuminating for Hart, whose family turns around things theatrical.

“The students have been asked to turn in their beginning, middle and end of their production at assign time so I can look at what they have and together make corrections,” he says. “The first time I saw them perform what they have come up with, I was amazed.

“For the past 30 plus years I have said, ‘It is amazing what young people can do when they are given the opportunity.’ I guess you get to the point as an educator where you think you have seen every possible scenario from students. Then, they do something truly amazing that puts everything we do as teachers into perspective.”

He is asked, Why theater… now?

“When the virus hit last winter, my middle school theater class was one week away from opening ‘The Little Mermaid,’ and our all-school production of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ was in full rehearsal mode,” he says. “After our school closed March 13, young people suffered on a regular basis – from sporting events to prom and graduation to summer activities.

“Personally, after 31 years I was forced to cancel our summer JuBriCoSa Arts Academy at all three of our Fox Valley locations. I know firsthand from talking to many parents that students just want to be around their friends and do something creative together.

“This opportunity for them to write, direct and act out something that is so personal to them is a way for them to release things I’ve been building up in them for the past seven months. The difference here is that there will not be a whole lot of acting going on, but rather testimonials or documentaries of actual events that have happened to them and those they love.”

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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