Vistamar School students present a play live and in person for the first time in 14 months.
By Keira Stenson
Although everyone can likely agree that life under COVID-19 has been strange, unpredictable, and challenging, among countless other descriptors, the verb “adapt” is arguably more representative of the past year than any other word. Every aspect of life has changed, and with new regulations announced seemingly every day, flexibility has been the key to success. The theater department at Vistamar High School in El Segundo has taken that to heart, utilizing creative modifications to execute its first in-person performance in fourteen months: Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie.
Vistamar’s theater department is one of the most robust extracurricular programs at the school, usually putting on a total of three shows over the course of a year. Although COVID-19 derailed the department’s 2020 spring musical, A Chorus Line, the staff and students didn’t let that stop them, choosing The Glass Menagerie for 2021 partly for its very small scale: only four cast members and one set were needed for the show.
As a student who has been in the audience of many previous Vistamar theater productions, I felt this particular performance clearly exhibited the range of the program’s talented actors. In the absence of large musical numbers, intricate dance choreography, and elaborate sets and costume changes, the true emotion and skill of the performers shone even brighter as they brought to life Tennessee Williams’ classic play about a family in St. Louis in the 1930s.
This show was a long time in the making, as students had been rehearsing since the fall in the hopes of getting to perform at some point during the year, a date that kept getting pushed back as a return to in-person school was continually delayed. However, the rehearsals were anything but repetitive, as constant changes in COVID-19 protocols and regulations forced the cast and crew to readjust continually in order to take advantage of new possibilities while maintaining the safety of all.
Changes had to be made even right before the shows, including the addition of masks to the actors’ costumes. (They used clear face coverings to improve understanding for the audience.) “A memory I have [of this time] would probably be when it was the day before our performance, and I pulled up to the school and saw that the set looked entirely different than what we’d practiced in,” Chris A. ‘22, who plays Jim O'Connor (often referred to as “the gentleman caller”), remarks.
The theater for the performances was created in the parking lot outside the school for increased safety, and audience members were arranged in “pods” of up to four to allow for physical distancing. Although the stage had at one point been enclosed in a plexiglass case dividing it from the audience, this proved unstable and was removed before the first show. As could be expected, the outdoor environment did present some challenges, some less obvious than others. “Out[side], we had the outdoor lights just beaming down,” comments Ricky F. ‘22, “and so our light cues didn’t really work.” Light cues or not, however, the audience would never have guessed anything was amiss.
Most importantly, the actors spoke about the joy they felt finally getting to return to the stage and experience the feeling of performing for an audience, some for the last time as high school students. “It felt so good to just be back onstage after not performing on one since February , because the theater is my home, and it was so nice to just be surrounded by castmates and tech crew and friends again after being apart for so long,” Hope C. ‘23 gushes. “I didn’t realize how good it was going to feel.”
The Vistamar theater department’s production of The Glass Menagerie might have been a challenge, but it certainly exhibited the cast and crew’s creativity and perseverance like no other show. Not only did the performance bring the welcome reintroduction of live theater into the lives of its audience members, it also served as a beacon of hope that the hardest days of quarantine are finally behind us.
Keira Stenson (pictured) is a Vistamar School student. She will graduate in 2022.
Photos by CW Productions