Little is usual in this world turned topsy-turvy by a pandemic, but Durham Academy Upper School is claiming a bit of life as we used to know it with the return of the fall play performed before a live audience in Kenan Auditorium. While the student actors are all fully vaccinated and will be performing unmasked, audience capacity in Kenan is being reduced to 50% and the audience must wear masks at all times.
With the pandemic closing school in March 2020 and DA operating in a hybrid mode last year, “it was really hard because it was my junior year and I didn't know if we would go back senior year to ‘normal,’” said Neha Srivats ’22, who has been involved in Durham Academy theatre since ninth grade. “I thought maybe Addams Family [the 2020 winter musical] would have been my last production at DA, and I was really sad. … It's really crazy because it feels like so long since I've done something like this, but also I feel like no time has passed. I feel like we're just getting right back to normal.”
Srivats, assistant stage manager for the fall play, said, “It's just going to be so nice to see people out watching.”
Live theatre returns to the Upper School and Kenan Auditorium on Oct. 21–23 with the production of Eurydice by Sarah Ruhl. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. and admission is free, but reservations are required.
In preparing for the fall play, Upper School theatre director James Bohanek said he has focused on safety protocols “making sure that everybody is safe, doing everything we can to be safe so that the students can still do the thing that they want to do and learn from the experience and have a great show.”
Bohanek thinks the theme of the play makes Eurydice “a really good play to do right now. It deals with loss and death, something that we cannot shy away from exploring because of everything that has happened [during the pandemic]. It also deals with love and relationships, and all of this is done in a very contemplative, interesting, unique, sometimes offbeat and humorous way. It's a way to look at love and loss and have space.
“It's spare and contemplative, and it's interesting and unique and curious in terms of the storytelling, the way it happens,” Bohanek explained. “I just thought thematically and tone-wise, it was really right for this time, coming out of this chaos where there's so much going on, to have a time to breathe and to reflect on all the things that we've had to deal with. I really feel like this does it.”
The play is a modern retelling of the myth of Orpheus, reimagined through the eyes of its heroine, Eurydice. The New York Times described Ruhl’s work as a “weird and wonderful new play … adapting the mournful legend with a fresh eye, concentrating on Eurydice’s descent into the jaws of death. What she finds there, and what she learns about love, loss and the pleasures and pains of memory, is the subject of Ms. Ruhl’s tender-hearted comedy.”
Madison Smithwick ’23, who attended school completely remotely last year, said, “It's super exciting to be in front of a live audience, to be able to go to school and go to rehearsal. That's always something I get super excited to do, especially because I get to play a comedic character in our current show. And it's just really nice — you can tell that everyone involved in the play is just so happy that theatre is back, and so is Mr. Bohanek and that is just really fun.”
Stage manager Chaz Strickland ’22 thinks “it’s great to have the arts starting to come back to DA because they were one of the programs that took the hardest hits during the pandemic. Sports were able to continue with some restrictions. Speech and debate, Science Olympiad were able to continue, but the arts really, really took a hit last year, and I think it's just great to have them as a part of the campus as a whole.”
Georgie Rigby ’23 has been involved in theatre since childhood. She came to DA as a ninth-grader and said “one of the reasons I chose DA was because of the theatre program.” She attended school virtually for much of her sophomore year and “kind of forgot how much I missed this, the rehearsal process in general. … I think I definitely am not taking it for granted as much as I have in previous years. It's just so fantastic to be back and it makes life feel just a little bit more normal.”
Senior Avery Davidson, who plays Eurydice’s father and was in the 2019 fall play and 2020 winter musical, said it was “a bit weird, a bit strange when all of a sudden you realize you're performing back on Kenan stage and you're going through these scenes.”
Davidson stressed the importance of the community aspect of DA theatre. “You are part of something big, and as Mr. Bohanek always has said, it takes all of us. From the moment he said that, I've taken that to heart. Being a part of something like that — the play, the musical — gave a whole new meaning to ‘community.’ When you actually are part of a community that not only you love, but they love you back, that's just a very special thing.”
Upper School theatre is back in Kenan, brought back with Bohanek paying careful attention to health protocols necessitated by the pandemic.
“Then all the other things are the same things we always do,” Bohanek said. “We rehearse. We design. We experiment. We collaborate. All the things that are joyful about theater, all those things are happening.
“But just on top of all of those things, you have the layer of safety to make sure that all the students and everybody involved in the production remain safe.”