The Show Must Go Online! M'KIS Drama Students Shine in Virtual Production

As the news of school shutdowns and MCOs kept coming over the last year, our drama students prepared for the unexpected. Our MS & HS Theater teacher, Ms. Rachel Damon, knew that she needed to find a show that could be performed online in the event that campus closed, which is exactly what happened.

Because they were prepared, our theater students adapted their theater production quickly! They had chosen to perform 'Definitely Not Clue' a new show with audience interaction designed for Zoom, and they knew this would be a great time to embrace the challenges of online acting. Read on to get to know the cast and learn about their brave adventures in virtual drama production.

Q & A with Ms. Rachel Damon, M'KIS Drama Teacher

Tell us a little bit about why you chose to perform Definitely Not Clue for this year’s production.

I looked at a large number of plays, radio shows and other material that was online and wanted to find something that would be interactive and still have the immediacy and community feel of live theater. When I found 'Definitely Not Clue', a new show with audience interaction designed for Zoom, I knew it would be a great fit for our students.

Halfway through your preparation and rehearsals, the CMCO was put into place and you had to quickly come up with an alternative plan for the performance. What was that like?

I had been obsessively watching the case numbers in Malaysia start to go up, and thought this was a possibility. I sent the costumes home with the students the week before we went online and luckily had a day’s notice to put together green bulletin board paper for all the students that they were able to take home and use as green screens. We were initially going to film in the theater, but needed to transition to home filming. Luckily, we had always planned for the show to be online, so that made the logistics easier. We worked with the students to find the best set ups in their houses, some of them borrowing technology from their parents to find computers that would work with the virtual backgrounds in Zoom. The entire show was filmed directly on Zoom!

So much of theater is collaborative and about being together in one space. What has it been like to put together and rehearse a production while doing everything virtually?

We have been really lucky to have great parent support for this production, which has helped things run more smoothly. There have been some challenges of working online with younger siblings and pets running into the shot, and many technical difficulties. Some of the students had to ask their families to get offline so they would have enough bandwidth to stream! I have been so impressed with students' abilities to be resilient and roll with things as their green screens fell off the walls around them or they dealt with wifi issues. There are certainly added challenges of not being in the same room, but the students have really risen to the challenges.

Have there been any fun surprises or unexpected things you’ve discovered since you transitioned to virtual production mode?

The students have really enjoyed “being in the same room” (albeit a Zoom room), with their peers and it has given them a creative outlet and something to look forward to during the CMCO. I have been really impressed by their positive attitudes. Working virtually does have more of a cinematic feel than live theater and we have been working on camera proximity and taking the format of Zoom into account with our staging. I feel like we have all become Zoom pros after this performance and it has been fun to look at performances in a new way. I am excited for the audience to see all their hard work and interact with us in the chat to make this a more communal experience.

What’s one thing you want our students and parents to know about theater and what it means to students who participate in it?

Theater and performance are so critical for students, especially during the times we live in. If you think about what has gotten you through the lockdowns and MCO, most people would mention Netflix, TV shows or movies. All those actors got their start in school theater programs, and it's important that we continue to nurture the next generation of artists. Theater allows students to work collaboratively toward a common goal and have a social and creative outlet to persevere through difficult times.

In Their Own Words: Get to Know the Cast! 

From left to right: Marisa McKenzie, Abood Alomari, Thara Thiruppathi Ahila, Adrian Sanchez, Jaime Lively.

Megan Jacobs, Assistant Director and playing Rube Rose: "Assistant Directing this production was an amazing experience! It was a ton of work, but allowed me to have a better appreciation for directors and editors. Continuing to stay involved with the community/school was also a blessing. Although things have been very uncertain due to COVID, it was nice to do a stable production. And I can officially say I have become a Zoom pro! I hope others will have the same enjoyable experience as me! "

Marian Forson, playing Mr. Body/Mysterious Voice: "I had never really done any real drama productions before this, but in drama class, I got to do skits and scenes. It was interesting doing this production virtually. I got to learn how to set up a green screen, I practically became a Zoom pro, and I got to meet new people. It was also a good exercise in being patient, since everything was new to every member of the cast, and it took a while to get things set up. In the end, really fun and I honestly wouldn’t mind doing it again."

Campbell Budworth, playing Ruby Rose: "The key differences between acting in an in-person performance and acting in a virtual performance is the memorization of the lines, the product, and the process of production. Memorizing the lines was very different when doing the virtual performance, because you could have the lines beside you while filming. In an in-person performance, you get an evening out to see something amazing. But in a virtual performance, you get an evening to see something amazing in your own home!"

From left to right: Megan Jacobs (Assistant Director), Taeeon Jun, Reem Khalife, Smriti Tandon, Marian Forson. 

Arwa Alomari, playing Astrid Pitt: "I enjoyed it and thought it was very interesting because it's my first show and because we filmed it at home!"

Thara Thiruppathi Ahila, playing Kevin: "This was my first online play, and it was really different from the real stage. We could do a lot more than traditional drama, like making people disappear out of the blue, summon costume changes with the snap of a finger (with the help of a little editing) and grow a beard. It took a lot of time to prepare and set up the shooting location. We had many technical issues, but we were able to successfully overcome it. Although it was challenging, online drama is just as fun as being on stage and filming was really fun. I laughed a lot and interacted with my fellow cast members, and the experience was memorable. I hope we will have a ‘Definitely Not Clue’ reunion by playing the board game ‘Clue’ virtually in 5 years from now!"

Reem Khalife, playing Forest Pine: "This has been such a unique, fun, and exciting experience, from collecting props around the house, trying frantically to get a better pair of headphones, and getting everyone to be quiet because we were filming! We got to set up green screens, talk to imaginary people while tilting our heads upwards to fit the layout, and more, and this was definitely challenging but it has been so exciting and fun that I wouldn't change it for the world. I would like to thank Ms. Damon, Megan, and Jaida for thinking through everything and for making this possible in the first place."

From left to right: Campbell Budworth, Jaida Sanada (Assistant Director), Aryan Sachdev, Hiya Khera, Arwa Alomari. 

Adrian Sanchez, playing Greg Poupon: "Being an actor in these crazy times, during a pandemic, can be challenging. When we were shooting we ran into a few problems such as lag time online, green screens not working, siblings running into your room, and your dad trying to be on a conference call while you’re filming and slowing down the internet. But some of the great parts of being an actor during these times is you are in your comfort zone and the camera only captures the top half of your body, so you can wear comfy bottoms. "

Hiya Khera, playing Ava LeFowl: "Filming online has been a challenge because of all the new things that we had to use. Even though it was hard, it was definitely a lot of fun not just to record but also to experiment with new things like virtual green screen backgrounds. Some differences were that we didn’t get to record next to each other at school like we were going to if there was no lockdown, and we won’t be able to be at school with each other and celebrate while people are watching our show that we all worked really hard for. Even with everything going on, we still managed to do our best and make this show entertaining to watch! "

Marisa McKenzie, playing Kevin: "This show has been very different from any of the other shows I’ve been in before, mostly because it is online. We also had to adapt, but once we knew the show was going to be online, we didn’t have any problems switching to practices online. This show is also different because I’ve never had digital practices before for a show, so that was new to me. "