It’s (still) A Wonderful Life

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Julia Sayre and Clare Mone

Theater students from the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) have spent the fall preparing to record their performance of the radio play It’s A Wonderful Life. The holiday show will be filmed remotely over Zoom by the theater department and screened for the public at The Drive-In on Dec. 18, 19, and 20.

Theater department head Brooke Ditchfield is directing the play, as she has for the past seven years. She said a lot of thought went into determining this year’s show. “In July, we started looking at titles that would be possible to do if we were still in a shut down area [during the holidays]. The reason why we went with this one is because we knew this story would time out really well with the holidays and it’s also written to be performed as a radio play,” Brooke said.

A radio play relies on vocal components more than visuals, with sound effects, music, and vocals being the key elements. People who cannot attend in person will be able to tune into the play on WMVY on Dec. 20.

Minnesingers director Abigail Chandler is the assistant director, and said that producing a radio play over Zoom came with some unexpected benefits. “One of the really fun bits has been that because it’s a radio show, so much of the focus is on the quality of [students’] speaking,” she said. “Hearing the kids explore and have fun with that is really nice.”

Freshman Samantha Warren agreed with the importance of conveying characterization through voice. “You really have to get into character when you say your lines, because the camera doesn’t show your body parts or gestures,” she said.

Junior Emmett Favreau plays the lead male role of George Bailey and feels that despite the challenges he faced while producing the play remotely, it has overall been a learning experience. 

“Even though the virus is not particularly working in the favor of the performing arts, it’s taught me that even with all of those disadvantages, people are still able to take their passion and create something new out of it,” he said.

Brooke and Ms. Chandler had to overcome lagging connections and remote auditions in order to produce the play over Zoom, but they both said it was worth it for one reason: the students.

“The students have worked so hard and they deserve to create something,” said Brooke, “so we were really committed to make sure that we could. I’m so glad that we did because I think what we’re going to present is going to be very, very special.” 

 Junior Ingrid Moore, who plays Joseph, the superintendent of angels, has found several positive aspects of remote rehearsal, such as creating her own festive set background for her Zoom box. “It was actually kind of fun because it’s Christmas-themed. I got to take out all of my Christmas decorations and put them all up,” she said. 

However, performing her scenes in front of a computer doesn’t compare to in person. “It’s just weird,” Ingrid said. “A lot of [performing] is being able to see how your performance is coming off to the audience and to ensemble members, and that’s so much harder to do over Zoom.”

Another difficulty with filming and acting over Zoom was the singing portion of the musical production, which was impossible with lagging internet connections. So instead of producing their annual musical, the theater department decided for the production to be a play.

To add some kind of musical component, Brooke and Ms. Chandler decided to do a collaboration between the theater kids and the Minnesingers for the first time after the Minnesingers shows this year were cancelled.

Ms. Chandler spoke to what motivated her through these times:“I found in high school that music filled up voids and made high school something that I could get through. My motivation has been giving my students something to look forward to to fill that void.”

Entry to the drive-in will be free, but viewers are encouraged to donate, with all proceeds benefiting the Minnesingers. Other performances by the theater department will be shown in the spring.