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For UCHS students, the shows will go on – eventually

UCHS drama members Isaac Lewis, Nich Hensley, Eli McIntosh, Chris Doughty, Kayla Carson, Kate Hollenbeck, Emily Wells, Gaby Davis, Rachel Altemose, Emily Barr, Emma Jones and Zach Thompson perform “12 Angry Jurors.” (Photo by Bailey Robinson)

By Richard Rourk

Unicoi County High School, like the rest of the world, has had to cancel many events due to COVID-19. The UCHS Drama Department is also having to adjust to life during COVID-19.

“While virtual school has been successful for the theatre arts students, it’s obviously not quite the same,” UCHS theater arts and drama instructor Lori Ann Wright said. “It’s definitely more challenging to work in the performing arts without being face-to-face and without our classroom, props, the stage and equipment, but I’m really proud of the students and how they are adapting to this new way of learning.”

According to Wright, the students are still working hard while utilizing technology to communicate.

“We have class via Google Meet and the students are busy working on hopefully soon-to-be rescheduled performances and script writing,” Wright said. “They are still working hard and creating with the hopes that we will eventually do their productions in some form, at some point, and at some location even if it’s later this summer. I am so thankful that we now have the technology to make this transition easier. At the high school level, the Chromebooks have been a wonderful resource to keep class going through Google Classroom.”

Wright acknowledged that several performances have been cancelled with hopes of one day making the dates up.

“We did have to cancel April performances of ‘Stuart Little’ and May performances of ‘Peter Pan’ but I am hoping to reschedule those dates and be able to perform them in some way for the community later this summer depending on how the COVID- 19 situation progresses,” Wright said. “We are working towards that goal in class with the understanding that all event planning is paused now while we are all social/physical distancing and following the CDC guidelines. It’s just too early in the situation to know for sure about exact rescheduled performances dates yet.”

For Wright and her students, adjusting to the changes have been a challenge but one the group is ready for it.

“The changes to our performances are inconvenient, but 100 percent necessary,” Wright said. “Drama folks definitely have a ‘show must go on’ mindset, but our current situation changes that. The health of the students, families, and the community is far more important than a missed performance. The show can still go on, just not right now.”

Wright’s seniors have taken the changes in stride.

“The COVID-19 virus may have altered the appearance of our classes, but as drama kids we are always up for a challenge,” UCHS senior Zach Thompson said. “Even if we are finishing out our senior year in an untraditional way, we are still working, persevering, and staying connected to do the one thing we know and love – create.”

For fellow UCHS senior Brandolyn Thomas, the unconventional approach to classes during COVID-19 has become the norm.

“At the beginning, I was horrified by the transition to online classes,” Thomas said. “My worst fear was our classes would just slowly turn into nothing and school would just end. However, thanks to my supportive teachers, I still feel extremely connected to UCHS and get my dosage of schooling almost every day.”

For UCHS senior Bella Bogart, the cancellation of upcoming shows has forced her and her colleagues to become crafty when it comes to preparing for the future shows.

“There aren’t enough words to describe the feeling you get when you perform on the stage,” Bogart said. “COVID-19 has truly put a hold on that feeling. Switching to online classes for theatre has been difficult because we were transitioning into ‘Peter Pan’ when schools got shut down.

“So as of right now we are meeting virtually to work on learning lines for ‘Peter Pan.’ We are also working on a student driven production focused on finding the positives while living in quarantine. Although we are not on the stage and things look very different, we are continuing to adapt and work on our productions so that the show can go on.”

The ability to roll with the punches and go above the call of duty has really impressed the seasoned instructor.

“I am proud of how the students are able to achieve so much and continue with classes even in this new situation,” Wright said. “I know this has been a challenge for all the students and especially the seniors, but there are some valuable life lessons to be learned by having to adapt to unexpected circumstances. I have seen some amazing things happening with online learning over the past month and I think our students and teachers are finding ways to excel even in this trying time. I am encouraged by seeing how education continues even when we can’t be together in the classroom.”

According to Wright, the students of UCHS continue to push through the struggles and fears of COVID-19 and focus on school.

“The students are finding ways to shine even while working from home,” Wright said. “For example, the drama students started working on a new project last week. They are writing individual performance pieces about their experiences during the COVID- 19 situation. They are creating a collection of short scenes, monologues, spoken-word poetry and even songs about staying inside for the sake of others. They are looking for silver linings and positives in a hard time.”

When students hit the stage next school year they can expect to step on to a stage that has had several renovations. UCHS is in the process of replacing the lighting and sound on the auditorium stage.

“Currently the renovation project is in the bidding process stage and the board of education will start reviewing bids soon,” Wright said. “The plan is to start the redo this summer if at all possible. The students are excited and ready to start working with the planned updates, especially those interested in the technical side of theatre.”

According to Wright, the support from the school leaders, staff and students and their parents has been overwhelming.

“We are very lucky to have wonderful school leaders, board members, administrators,  educators and school staff that are all committed to continuing the education of our students even when the physical school buildings are closed,” Wright said. “Also, we have so many great parents and guardians helping the students stay on task and learning at home. It really is amazing to see how the community comes together in a crisis.”

To keep up with the latest from the UCHS Drama Department, please follow UCHS Drama on Facebook.