This past December, the Upper School theater program staged a virtual production of She Kills Monsters, by playwright Qui Nguyen. The drama-comedy tells the story of Agnes Evans, who, after losing her teenage sister in a car accident, plunges into a fantasy role-playing game as a way to learn more about her sister’s life. Calhoun thespians, along with Upper School Theater Director Lee Kasper, are no strangers to the work that goes into producing a full-scale theater performance, but the entire crew had their work cut out for them as they took on an entirely new challenge—presenting She Kills Monsters from home.
For the student-actors, creating theater from home introduced them to an entirely new set of techniques and methods, and the process at times was more akin to shooting a television show than performing a staged play. Students began rehearsing in October, and then filmed their scenes in November. Since the thespians were performing at home, they had the luxury of doing multiple takes to get the best performance recorded for the final product.
Technology, of course, was instrumental in permitting a full production to take place during the pandemic, but it sometimes led to challenges and very specific opportunities for growth.
“We figured out that tech sometimes doesn’t do what you want it to do,” says Lee. “Toward the end of production, we had to have three days of re-shoots because the audio was off in a few scenes.” But instead of re-shooting entire scenes, Lee took the opportunity during this unconventional production to coach the student-actors in a skill they wouldn’t normally focus on in theater class—voiceover work. The students re-recorded only the audio, which was then dropped into the video recordings.
The tech crew also had to reimagine their involvement in the production. Just as they had for in-person plays, the tech students created the props—including the dragon masks in the final scenes, which each took more than three hours to make—and they also took on some of the camerawork. Scenes that didn’t involve any of the actors and needed more space to pull off were staged and filmed in the 81st Street theater by the tech crew and Peter Russo, the play’s production manager.
The entire Upper School theater team took on this experiment of an at-home performance with an enthusiasm that was clearly displayed in the final product. “I felt them come together as an ensemble, like we do when we are in person, in a way that I wasn’t sure was possible in this format,” says Lee. “To see that happen organically speaks to the magic of theater and the magic of Calhoun students.”