If this school year was like any other, middle school students would have participated in the annual One-Act Play Festival in October. But there is nothing typical about this year, including middle school theater.
Six of the district’s middle school theater teachers teamed up to transform the event into the district’s first-ever middle school film festival. Tasked with creating a one-act film with whatever video equipment and experience they had, each teacher brought their A-game.
Crockett Middle School theater students performed and filmed “Bad Audition,” a spunky comedy, using green screens and iPads. A collection of scenes featuring a limited number of actors, this one-act play was perfect to film while socially distanced. With each actor filmed in front of his or her own greenscreen and behind a protective sheet of plexiglas, theater teacher Lanell Pena had a lot to coordinate to make sure each scene ran smoothly.
After filming, Pena edited the entire play together like a puzzle. Despite the immense amount of work put into the film, it was worth creating a unique experience that her students would never forget.
“We were sad that we wouldn’t have the same experience [as in a normal year], and yet we were still able to get that same feeling,” says Pena. “The kids were so supportive of each other, complimenting each other. It was amazing.”
Across Irving, Johnson Middle School students performed “Virtual Help Desk” entirely on Zoom. Luckily for these actors, they already had experience with virtual theater, having put on a virtual murder mystery play in October.
For teacher Roxy Reynolds, the best part of the film festival was that all her students had something to look forward to and participate in. From set and costume design to soundtrack selection and on-stage actors, every student had a part in creating the film.
“It was really important to me that kiddos who are at home could still be part of it,” says Reynolds. “We have some really strong actors who just want to feel connected and seen. It was helpful to them, and they did such a great job.”
Austin Middle School students took another route, writing their own script and performing their original play via the app FlipGrid. Theater teacher Aadrise Johnson, who has a love for storytelling and script writing, challenged her students to write monologues all about 2020. The finished product, “Quarantine: Monologues for the Pandemic,” features a mix of dramatic and comedic monologue to express each student’s unique take on the pandemic.
“To see these kids being so open and brave to talk about what they’re feeling and experiencing really inspired me as a creator and writer myself,” says Johnson.
All participating theater students and teachers gathered together, socially-distanced style, at Singley Academy to watch the premiere of each school’s film. After viewing all six films, each school received an award and ranking from the festival judges.
For all the teachers, their goal was the same: to provide a space for their students to be creative, express themselves and support one another in a year like no other.
“We took a bunch of lemons and made a lemon tart. It was not just lemonade, we made a full-baked pie that was tasty and beautiful. I’m super proud of us as a team,” says Pena.