Almost all theater enthusiasts are undoubtedly familiar with the phrase, “The show must go on.”
To those involved, it signals that, despite all the uncertainties that come with putting on a production, the show will always prevail.
But how to put on a production with the threat of a global pandemic looming large over the cast and crew? That is the question the Cheshire High School Drama department found itself facing this year.
This year’s spring musical, directed by Dawn DeMeo, is “Little Women,” based on the classic book by Louisa May Alcott that tells the tale of the four March sisters — Amy, Beth, Meg and Jo — and their mother Marmee, all living during the time of the American Civil War. To get the play ready to go, the actors have had to deal with all the COVID-19 precautions and concerns since they started rehearsals in January.
“The kids have been fantastic this year,” explained DeMeo. “So much has been thrown at them with this pandemic and they have taken it all in stride. The kids have never really even fully rehearsed all together, but you wouldn’t know it, they are so connected to one another.”
In order to ensure safety between the students and faculty, students have to wear masks at all times, even during the performance, and they have committed to standing six feet apart, even during dance routines.
“It’s been a real challenge to do some of these rehearsals because the kids cannot touch one another or really be next to each other at all,” DeMeo said. “We’ve pre-recorded all the singing so it’s easier to hear with the masks on, and we will play it along with the performance. We also video recorded them singing so you can see their faces and expressions during the songs, which is so important.”
The health and safety of the cast was only one part of the consideration. This year, in order to ensure public safety, the performance will be recorded, not performed live in front of an audience.
“The first week of May, we will be releasing a link to the public, which will be the recording of our show,” DeMeo explained. “Because we will not be selling tickets, we do ask for a small donation, but it won’t be required. We really want to celebrate the incredible effort these kids have made to put this show on against all odds.”
The production was able to utilize the school’s impressive recording studio that is typically used for video production classes.
“It was so much fun getting to record in an actual studio,” said Ella Paul, a freshman at CHS who plays Beth March in the show. “It was like we were real celebrities recording an album or something — it was wild.”
Paul pointed to the show’s main theme — the importance of family — and how much of a challenge it can be to convey without being allowed to touch someone.
“Being part of the March family, there are moments when you naturally would hug one another or touch someone on the arm and we can’t do any of those things because of social distancing,” she added.
While most of the young cast were unacquainted with the story of “Little Women” before rehearsals began, many received help from family members who were familiar with the novel.
“When my grandmother learned I would be playing Amy, she was so excited,” said Juliette Markman. “She made me promise I would do her justice. I hope I can do that!”
For some students, this pandemic-era performance is the last they will have at CHS, making it even more unique.
“This is definitely the weirdest theater experience I’ve had at CHS,” said Ian Osborne, who plays Laurie, one of the show's male leads. “Everything has been so limited in what we can do, or how we even interact with each other is different. But I know I am in good hands here and we have all found time to really connect with each other outside of the show, which has made it that much more special.”
Even with all the precautions, the cast has had two cases of COVID-19 crop up, requiring the entire cast to go into quarantine twice.
“It was definitely stressful at first, but sooner or later you kind of learn to go with it,” said Osbourne. “We were able to bounce back pretty well, even with the delay.”
On the days the students have “double rehearsal,” which means both acting and dance practices back to back, the cast explains that they all try to stay through both rehearsals and eat dinner together instead of going home in between, which has helped keep their bond tight.
“One of my favorite things we do is our cast dinners between rehearsals,” said Molly DeMeo, a CHS senior who plays Marmee. “We usually order out from one of the local businesses around here and just get together and catch up, which is something we haven’t been able to do for a really long time.”
The exact date for the release of “Little Women” has yet to be determined.