Any other April, the North Penn High School auditorium stage would be bustling; this year, it is eerily silent. No chairs squeaking, no harmonies being created, no wondering ‘will we be ready for opening night?’ Due to the shutdown of all schools by Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, the cast and crew of Shrek: The Musical have not rehearsed since March 12.
That doesn’t mean that NPHS Theatre has come to a screeching halt. Working with teachers from across the district, North Penn Theatre Director Andrea Roney and the Thespian Troupe #5464 Officers and Cabinet worked to develop projects to keep the sense of community alive among North Penn Thespians.
I spoke virtually with Mrs. Roney to talk all things theatre, thespians, and T.A.C.O’s!
Could you tell me about the T.A.C.O. (Thespians Act Creatively Online) project and how it came to be?
Well, I’ve been reading books to or having books read to me by my 6 year old grandson over the phone. I was collaborating with Ms. Meg Burke, NPSD Learning Coordinator and some other NPHS English teachers with on-line teaching ideas during the two week prior to school starting. I mentioned the reading to Ms. Burke as an idea to share with other teachers and parents. She mentioned reading to elementary school students and the idea took off in about 5 minutes!
The Thespian Officers, Cabinet Members, and Class Reps met on a Google Meet and I brought up the idea to them and they added ideas and how to use it for Thespians to earn points toward induction and honor bars during this time. They also named the project T.A.C.O.s which stands for Thespians Act Creatively On-line. The acronym we all felt would appeal to everyone. T.A.C.O.s consists of Thespians reading books and poems of cultural diversity to 3, 4, 5, and 6 grade students, recording the readings, and then sharing the recordings with the teachers to use as part of Friday read alouds with their classes.
Currently, Thespians are signing up to be a part of the project. The technology, texts, and a few other issues are being resolved this week. Thespians will receive 4 points for participating which will include some Google Meet rehearsals and the recording. As we progress, there may also be some simple craft projects to accompany the readings. We’re thinking what to do with toilet paper rolls – since that seems to be a theme of this time!
Tell me about The Biggest Fan and why it is so important to still be connected to theatre even if we can’t currently put on/attend live productions?
Again, the Thespian Officers, Cabinet Members, and Class Reps and I had a discussion about how to stay connected with each other and our love of theatre while also earning points toward Induction and Honor Bar. During the spring, many Thespians support the spring musicals at the three North Penn middle schools and productions at high schools across the region. And then there’s always going to NYC or Philadelphia on weekends or spring break. Obviously, none of that is happening right now.
We’re all missing the opportunity to see new shows and applaud the work of others. It occured to me that a number of YouTube channels, cable channels, PBS, etc. are opening their programming vaults to help us through this time. Many of the programs being offered are Broadway plays and musicals or movies made from them. It seemed that we could offer the opportunity to earn Thespian points and encourage students to expand their theatre knowledge at the same time. Besides watching a show or movie, the student can choose one of four activities to respond to the show or movie, not only proving they actually watched it, but also critique and apply some higher order thinking to the experience. A team of Thespian officers are reading the responses and awarding points. Mary Forbes, Recording Secretary and in charge of Thespian point records, did a terrific job putting the project together so we could post it on NPHS Theatre and Thespian Google Classroom.
How will the annual officer elections and induction banquet change?
The Thespian Officers, Cabinet Members, and Class Reps are currently planning April, May, and June Virtual General Membership meetings on Google Meet, which will include Officer elections at the May meeting and Junior and Senior Class Reps at the June meeting. Cabinet members apply for their positions and through an interview process with the new Officers, will be selected for their positions. The application is the same for all positions and is currently on the NPHS Theatre and Thespian Google Classroom. People who truly want to serve the troupe are encouraged to apply for multiple positions. If they are not elected as officers, they can interview for cabinet positions the next week. If they are not chosen for a cabinet position, they can run for Class Rep position in June. The system has really been thoroughly vetted and looks good. Tori Quinn, President, has done a wonderful job on organizing all of this.
Inductions are also continuing through the NPHS Theatre and Thespian Google Classroom. The NPSD Business office is working with us to allow students to pay their dues and induction fees on-line. More information pending on that. And, we can induct people virtually with the Educational Theatre Association. As for the Banquet, that’s on hold right now pending developments with stay at home orders and people’s safety.
I know there is still lots of uncertainty, but what could the future of Shrek look like?
The April 30-May 3 performances have been cancelled and ticket monies are being returned to patrons, unless they take the option of donating their ticket sales to the production. We did incur a number of costs in preparing for the show. Currently, a number of people are donating their tickets to help us with those costs. However, we didn’t cancel the production but chose to postpone it with dates TBA.
We are monitoring the situation to see if there will be a possibility of doing anything with the show. If we changed venue or presentation — like doing a concert in a park, or on the front steps of NPHS, or the middle of the baseball field, we’d have to get permission from MTI, but I suspect with all the shows closed down over the entire country, they would be willing to work with us. Right now Fiona’s song of being locked in her tower for 4000+ days would resonate a lot with many of us. If there is a way to “save the show” for the students who have worked so hard — particularly the seniors — and bring some joy to our community who will be longing for something like it – we will. But safety first. We will be governed by Gov. Wolf’s and the medical community’s decisions and the NPSD Administration as to how to proceed.
Any other Theatre or Thespian updates?
The International Thespian Festival (ITF) has been cancelled at Indiana University for June. BUT it is going on-line and students who were not able to attend the Festival even before Covid-19 may have the opportunity to register for the digital ITF. It will be cheaper, but with workshops and lots of other events scheduled. There should be more information coming in the next week or so from the Educational Theatre Association.
Not much else to say, except I’m proud how our community and NPSD have come together to support each other during this time of Covid 19. Thank you to all the doctors and nurses and others in medical centers, those working in food stores and pharmacies and other essential businesses, and all those putting their lives on the line for others providing many tasks we take for granted. Thank you to the “theatre kids” who even in this time think about how they can use their creativity to help others and reach out to each other. Thank you to all in NPSD who are supplying meals and technology, teaching in challenging circumstances, doing many behind-the-scenes jobs, and our administration who continue to lead us. We are #northpennstrong!