Story by Kathy McPherson
Weekend Update: First, the bad news. The Upper School Fall Play, typically performed before a live audience in Kenan Auditorium, fell victim to COVID-19 social distancing guidelines.
Now for the good news: The Comedy Show, an online-only event modeled on Saturday Night Live, took its place, and the initial episode, Fall into Comedy, streamed online on Oct. 29. The DA community enjoyed a laugh-filled show produced, directed, written, acted, danced and played entirely by Upper School students.
While the show was not a live performance, “one of the things that's really important to the students is it has that element of theatre where you have to come at a certain time,” said James Bohanek, Upper School theatre director, said prior to the performance. The online audience attended the show through a Microsoft Teams call. “Even if we're not gathering in Kenan Auditorium, there's a show time — you've got to be there for show time and you've got to watch it then, not on demand but when it actually does happen.”
The audience was treated to an opening monologue featuring Mira Pickus ’21, the host of The Comedy Show, and a game show à la Family Feud with Upper School faculty members Dr. Harry Thomas, Thomas Phu, Kat Posada and Anne Gregory-Bepler facing off against Carina Rockart ’21, Ben Browner ’22, Charlie Lyerly ’23 and Ava Claar ’24.
The opening monologue and the game show were filmed the preceding night before live audiences that were socially distanced, wore masks and followed guidelines for gatherings. Game show participants, who competed on stage in Kenan Auditorium, also observed social distancing and wore masks.
But Pickus, who did stand-up comedy outdoors under the bandshell in the Upper School’s K Family Commons, was unmasked. “That’s why we were doing it outside, because stand-up comedy doesn’t really work with the mask,” Bohanek said.
The leaders of the Upper School Theatre Company — seniors Pickus, Rockart, Caroline Aldridge and Emily Norry, as well as junior Chaz Strickland — edited together an hour-long show that included six sketches written and acted by Upper School students, original music created and performed by students, a “senior special” and dance, artwork and music pieces submitted by Upper Schoolers. More than 30 students were involved in the show.
Rockart said there was never any debate about who would host Fall into Comedy. Pickus was the obvious choice. “We [the student leaders] knew she was interested in stand-up, she was interested in writing and she had a great, fun personality that comes across on stage and on the screen.”
Streaming just two days before Halloween and five days before Election Day, the show includes elements of both. Senior Sam Datin talked with eight members of the Class of 2021 about the presidential election. “He does these interviews, sort of person-on-the-street kind of thing, and that's very funny,” Bohanek said.
The Upper School Theatre Company takes the place of a successful extracurricular program that in typical years puts on a fall play and a winter musical theatre production, with Bohanek selecting the play and the musical. Faced with the limitations of the pandemic, he pivoted to a student-led theatre company.
“Students came up with the idea of doing this variety show, doing this SNL show,” Bohanek said. “They have written, they have directed, they have produced it. Mr. [Jake] Kavanagh [who teaches technical theatre at the Upper School] and I have just mentored them, but they have done everything, had total ownership of the whole process. It's really impressive how they've been able to mount this show given all the challenges of hybrid learning. Some people are on campus. Some people are remote.”
While acknowledging the difficulties of working with students both on campus and at home, Aldridge said that the biggest challenge “has been the way that we're presenting this project. We obviously can't gather with people, so we've had to figure out ways to have a live event online. That's a new format that we've never done before. We've had to rethink not just the project that we do, but how we were going to present it to the school.”
But there were also benefits.
“I was able to do lighting design, which was very exciting,” Strickland said. “I mainly worked with tech people and it was very fun to get to see their takes and ideas because typically we're working with a designer. But this year, we all got to be the design group, which was really exciting and fun.”