Monomoy Goes Down The Rabbit Hole With A Virtual 'Alice In Wonderland'

By: Jennifer Sexton-Riley

Ciara Farris as Alice. COURTESY PHOTO

Are you ready for an escape down the rabbit hole?
Grab your top hat and a cup of tea, as Monomoy Regional High School presents an innovative virtual theatrical performance of “Alice in Wonderland” via Zoom. The production will be livestreamed March 18, 19, and 20 at 7 p.m., and the public is encouraged to attend virtually.
The experience of auditioning, planning and performing a high school play is something students, teachers and family members look forward to each year. With the COVID-19 pandemic sidelining so many important experiences for kids, the MRHS theater department is rising to the challenge by creating a virtual performance, conducting rehearsals and utilizing their creativity and energy both in person and remotely to bring the performance to audiences safely.
Led by MRHS teachers Rachel Barnes, Rose Richard and Amanda Koslowski, informational meetings and auditions were conducted via video conference over the winter. With casting complete, teachers and students began the extensive planning, preparation and rehearsal required to bring their vision to fruition. Some students rehearsed from the school building, while some remote students rehearsed at home and connected with each other virtually.
English teacher Rachel Barnes found herself down a rabbit hole of sorts as she took on her first year as drama director in the middle of a pandemic.
“The person in charge of the program retired last year, and there was nothing in place for the arts kids,” Barnes said. “The dreamlike quality of 'Alice' made it a good choice to select, because it's Alice's imagination as she's dreaming. We don't need physical contact to make that work.”
The cast members did need to work on how to make emotion and expression come through loud and clear via a screen, however. Barnes explained that while in-person theatrical performances are all about demonstrating connection, moving on different levels onstage, and spacing, the cast had to learn how to position their cameras and bodies to make the remote performance look natural and real. While an in-person performance would include other people in charge of lights, sound cues, props and every other detail that goes into a complex stage project, in the case of a virtual performance, the individual cast members are on their own.
“The actors are doing a lot of it themselves,” Barnes said. “We set up templates for makeup, light, sound, props so everyone understands what happens where. The tech kids have been amazing. Bridget Brochu, Max Wall, and Kylie Francis have created or provided the props that pass from one actor to another, which sometimes required doubles and triples of the same object. We have lots of gloves, since the White Rabbit drops them everywhere. It creates a sense of connection for the audience.”
Music teacher Rose Richardson said that normally at this time of year she would be tearing her hair out running tech week leading up to a giant, full-blown musical production.
“It's very strange to not have a room packed with 40 singers and a 10- to 12-person pit band,” she said.
Richardson said that when she was first reading the script back in November, she noticed that a few monologues included a note that they “may be spoken or sung.”
“The play is not a musical, but there is music in the show,” Richardson said. “I mentioned it to my music theory student Phoebe Gill, who has developed a knack for composing.”
Gill, a junior who plays the parts of Mouse, Two of Spades and the White Queen, happily agreed. She explained that her composition process consists of reading the lyrics (which were already written in the script) and trying to think of a melody to go along with them. Sometimes, she said, it was very easy, and she could hear exactly what she wanted it to sound like.
“At other times I wasn't so lucky,” Gill said. “Composing music isn't something I would say comes easily to me, but it is something I enjoy doing. When it gets difficult, I view it as a new challenge to work around, or a new puzzle to solve. We also have some really great intro music written by another student, Braeden Darling. He was asked to compose the opening song of the show during our music theory class.”
Amanda Kosloski is both the theater manager and the tech director for MRHS's shows.
“This has been certainly a different experience,” Kosloski said. “Usually, we dive right into building our set pieces so the cast knows what space they’ll be in, while lights and sound fall a little later. My students usually work for weeks on sets and props.”
Kosloski said that the experience of putting together a remote performance is teaching everyone involved to be flexible, and that maybe things that have seemed challenging in years past won’t cause as much concern in the future. She said the students have done an amazing job troubleshooting for each other. Although she's grateful that they have this opportunity to perform for a virtual audience, she looks forward to future performances in person.
“There’s nothing that compares to the thrill of a live audience,” Kosloski said.
Ciara Farris, who plays the role of Alice, agrees.
“I'm very used to being on stage and being able to see and interact with the other actors face to face,” Farris said. “With the Zoom format, I've had to learn to base my reactions on what other people say without really being able to see their expressions and movements.”
Farris explained that she is able to see the other actors on screen, but she has to keep her eyes on a certain spot on the screen so that she is looking at the camera.
“It's been a fun challenge that's led to a lot of laughs for the cast!” Farris said.
Everyone involved, including directors, cast and crew, mentioned their appreciation and gratitude for the help of volunteer Charlie Clute, a retired New York City theater teacher who has helped out with MRHS productions with his experience, wisdom and enthusiasm for the past eight years.
“We're so grateful to have him,” Farris said. “He has been at all of our rehearsals and is an integral part of the production. His advice and his help with acting techniques has been so valuable and helpful for everyone in all of the productions he's helped us with.”
Richardson agreed.
“The kids love him, and we are so lucky to have him,” she said.
In addition to the three evening performances, “Alice in Wonderland” will be performed on the morning of March 17 for both elementary schools, who will enjoy it remotely in their classrooms, as the elementary school students are attending school in-person.
The “Alice in Wonderland” cast includes Ciara Farris as Alice, Riley Jones as the White Rabbit, Brienna Notaro as the Queen of Hearts, Phoebe Gill as Mouse/Two of Spades/the White Queen, Lauren Morris as Frog Footman/the March Hare, Libby Anderson as Fish Footman/the Mad Hatter, Bella Cohrs as the Duchess/Tweedle Dee, Sophia Cohrs as the Dormouse/Knave of Hearts/Tweedle Dum, Alexis Arruda as the Mock Turtle/Humpty Dumpty/Seven of Spades, Dahlia Viprino as the Cheshire Cat/Red Queen/Five of Spades, Caitlin Bouvier as the Caterpillar/King of Hearts, and Ayah Wilson as the Gryphon. Original music was composed by Phoebe Gill and Braeden Darling. Props, lights and sound were created and assisted by the tech crew, consisting of Bridget Brochu, Max Wall, and Kylie Francis.
“Alice in Wonderland” will be livestreamed March 18, 19, and 20 at 7 p.m. Additional details, including the link to access tickets to the performances, can be found at www.monomoy.edu. Tickets are free with an option of making a donation to the Monomoy Regional High School Friends of The Arts.