WESTFIELD THEATRE DEFIES COVID-19 STRUGGLES, DELIVERS VIRTUAL MAINSTAGE

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Photo courtesy of Westfield Theatre Facebook page

     Despite being forced to redesign to a completely online environment lacking in-person practices or anything else previously familiar, the Westfield Theatre still managed to present an outstanding virtual Fall Mainstage: She Kills Monsters: Virtual Realms. Directed by Enza Giannone-Hosig, Speech and Drama teacher, and made possible by the technical and special effects team, this show provided the gifted emerging performers of Westfield a valid chance to present their talents, even in the face of a pandemic. 

     Brigid Duffy, English teacher, who watched and loved the play, enthusiastically stated, “I enjoyed being able to watch the play from the comfort of my couch, and I thought the cast and crew did an incredible job! I’m sure the cast had many moments when they doubted if performing a play in the virtual setting could be done, but it all came together and the students found ways to obviate every obstacle!”

     The Theatre Team chose to display the show on YouTube. They provided the audience with a link to the private stream upon the purchase of the tickets. The scenes were initially recorded on Google Meets, before being edited into an effective flow supplemented by special online effects. More specifically, each performer acted out their lines on a Meets call and then the technical team organized the scenes into a movie-like video. On YouTube, the final edited video was presented during showtime. In many cases, the actors utilized a greenscreen, which allowed them to seem as if they were standing next to each other — while in reality, everyone was in their own homes. 

     Sarah Fajer, 11, who was part of the Management Team, explained “We had an amazing team of editors and artists who took recordings of scenes and put them together into the final product. The editors knew a lot about the process prior to working on the show, but there was definitely some trial and error as we were figuring things out. The entire [editing] process took about a week.”

     Connor Dunn, 9, who was featured in the play, additionally claimed “The only official time people met in person was to collect costumes. Other than that, the whole process was completely remote.”

     In fact, it seems She Kills Monsters: Virtual Realms is a show created to be performed in a virtual setting. On his website, the playwright of the show, Qui Nguyen, mentioned “This edition of She Kills Monsters is meant to be performed online using the video conferencing platform of your choice.” 

     Additionally, according to Dr. G-H, “When the pandemic hit, the playwright rewrote the play super quick in a form meant specifically to be performed virtually. I thought this would be perfect to do now!” Moreover, according to her, Qui Nguyen intended the play “to be specifically performed on Zoom or Google Meets.”

     The plot of the play revolved around average high schooler Agnes Evans, played by the gifted Alison Brown, 12, who discovers a Dungeons and Dragons notebook that belonged to her late sister, Tily, outstandingly portrayed by Piper Anderson, 9. Proceeding this event occurring shortly after Tilly’s death, Agnes stumbles into the Dungeons and Dragons world that was designed by Tilly. With the help of a nerdy freshman Dungeon Master, Chuck, played by Alejandro Cahoon, 9, Agnes explores this world and discovers who her sister really was, in an attempt to, in a subconscious way, amend the fact that she was never close to Tilly due to Tilly being “a geek.” In addition to these dynamic characters and the beguiling main plot, the show also featured Miles, played by Dunn, Agnes’ jock boyfriend; demon cheerleaders; and much more. 

     However, it is plausible to argue that the editing process was perhaps much more rigorous than the plot. In fact, it took the Editing Team, consisting only 2 editors, 2-4 hours to edit each scene that took place in the Dungeons and Dragons world. 

     One of the editors, Krishna Purohit, 12, elaborated on the special effects process: “We used industry standard software known as Sony Vegas Pro and Adobe Premiere Pro. Deciding on the effects themselves was heavily based on my own vision for the respective scenes, as Dr. G-H didn’t know what was possible with our editing software. Even though this all took a lot of time, it was ultimately a fun experience, especially in the end when I got to see the reaction it had on people.”

     Despite these obstacles and tough adaptations, it is clear that the virtual play was, in the end, a marvelous success and has paved a clearer vision for more upcoming projects by the Drama Department during lockdown.

     Perhaps Dr. G-H herself said it best: “We learned a lot from this virtual experience and we will definitely do more shows, but we just don’t know which ones yet. And if we can’t do it in person, we will just figure out a way to do another virtual show!”