By MICHAEL LAKIND
Though it’s probably the last opinion you want to hear, theater kids have taken a huge hit from the fear generated by the spread of COVID-19, and for good reason. On top of the withdrawal from social interaction that the typical extroverted theater kid thrives on, amateur and professional theater productions across America have been abruptly shut down, including the Carmel High staging of “Bye Bye Birdie.”
Around Monterey County, several productions have seen abrupt closures following suit of every Broadway show stopping indefinitely on March 12. Pacific Repertory Theater’s “Matilda,” Monterey Peninsula College’s “New Works Festival,” and CHS’ “Bye Bye Birdie” all either had to cut their runs short, or in CHS’ case, cut it entirely. CHS students involved in the production have taken a massive wallop of disappointment because on top of the innumerable rehearsal hours put in during the third quarter alone, this show was the final outing for drama teacher Gracie Poletti and for some of this year’s seniors.
“I was very angry for one,” says senior Harrison Herendeen-Hill, who was slated to play the lead role of Albert Peterson. “We worked for months to give people a great show. I definitely don’t like it, but it’s kind of a necessary thing now that we’re in a state of emergency.”
On March 12, news of “Bye Bye Birdie” being closed was released before the closure of the school district itself, and this particular Thursday afternoon was arranged to be the final dress rehearsal before Friday’s opening night. So, the drama department hurried to put together one last run-through of the show and film it, which turned out to be a safe bet since the school closures were extended to April 19 at the earliest.
“At first Mr. Handley and I were really upset about it and no one would talk to us about it,” says Poletti of her efforts to keep the show on track. “We’re not just trying to not infect each other, but we’re trying to help keep the spread of coronavirus down for the entire community.”
Not everything is looking dreary, though. To combat the damage to the emotional state of America’s aspiring theater workforce, Tony-winning actress Laura Benanti posted a video on her Instagram page asking young actors whose shows have been canceled due to the virus outbreak to film themselves singing a song from their show and send it to her.
In addition, Broadway star Betsy Wolfe has revamped her masterclass series, Broadway Evolved, to feature a week of at-home classes. March 23 was the kickoff with an Instagram live video of her and Tony nominee Jeremy Jordan. All around the Internet with Benanti’s support, classes from industry veterans like Wolfe and the star-studded return of the “Rosie O’Donnell Show” on March 22, the worldwide theater community finds solidarity and hope in this trying time.
“It’s so important to us as performers and directors that everybody knows this is heartbreaking,” Poletti says. “It’s just nice to see people of influence reaching out to us common folk to make us feel a little better and give us a little hope.”