Hello Broadway World!
Twenty-four months. Seven hundred and fifty days. Seventeen-thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine hours agoArizona announced a state of emergency regarding COVID-19.
However, for me, the pandemic didn’t start until March 13th, marked by the arrival of an email announcing the extended spring break that would blur the lines between school and summer and sophomore year. COVID-19 fundamentally changed our world. But, over the course of those seven hundred and fifty days, we’ve managed to persevere, and I’m proud to announce that this week my school will be performing Mama Mia! the first musical since the world shut down.
In March of 2020, I was a freshman in high school. My friends and I crammed inside a bus and rode to Disneyland, unaware of the shut-down soon to come. Those memories serve as my favorite parts of Freshman year: riding Grizzly River Run until our clothes were soaked, receiving a rose from an armor-clad knight on horseback, watching the Fantasmic fireworks light up the sky in an explosion of color.
In a matter of mere days, my school system sent out the fated email:
My theater department was fortunate enough to perform our 2020 Spring Musical, Footloose, before the school system shut down – others were not so lucky. Many of my friends, and fellow actors, had their performances cut short days before opening night: “The last musical I was cast in was shut down on the second day of tech week due to the pandemic. So finally being able to put on a full-scale musical is something that’s really exciting and just fills my heart with joy…” (Junior at SHS).
COVID-19 covered the world in an oppressive shadow, forcing us inside and alone… but these strifes would lead to even greater creations: virtual performances via Zoom, Facetime karaoke nights, and front-row seats to Broadway’s finest from our living room couch.
Like the majority of the world, Saguaro High School’s Theater Department in Scottsdale, Arizona, has adapted to COVID mandates and precautions and so, with heavy amounts of hand sanitizer, we set out to perform our first musical since quarantine: Mama Mia! For the past two months, the cast and crew have worked hard to memorize music, synchronize choreography, and bring the beloved characters to life. We’ve had to balance a shared auditorium and busy student schedules. All of our dedication and energy has paid off and we’re ready to bring ABBA’s music to life on Thursday night!
The students and fine arts faculty of Saguaro High School (SHS) were more than happy to share their experiences on performing post-pandemic, having been robbed of last year’s musical: “A breath of fresh air!” (Senior at SHS) and “Different, but thrilling at the same time!” (Junior at SHS). Students commented how performing was different without masks, “but it doesn’t change the quality of the show. It’s going to be a really good show. It’s a lot of fun. It changes the number of hurdles to jump over, but it’s going to be a really good show nonetheless…” (Junior at SHS).
One of the juniors in the musical’s ensemble talked about her love for ABBA and how, “Mama Mia! has been something I’ve been attached to since I’ve been five years old, so finally being able to put myself into the movie and musical that I grew up loving and dancing around with my mom too is extremely exciting for me… “. Theater has a tradition of inspiring laughter and hard-won memories; from rocking out to soundtracks with your parents, singing at the top of your lungs with the windows down, or tuning in to the Oscars on Sunday nights.
Mr. Tim McCandless, Saguaro High School’s theater teacher and the director of Mama Mia! reminded the cast and crew about, “wearing masks as much as possible offstage, having hand sanitizer offstage, and being careful about singing in too large of groups. Before we never had to worry about that, but now we do.”
Mrs. GayLin Tutnick, Saguaro High School’s choir teacher and Mama Mia!‘s music director, shared that she honestly doesn’t think we’ve, “done anything that different other than not allow there to be actual kissing in the romantic scenes! We’ve worked every bit as hard. We’ve trained. We’ve focused. We’ve worked together, failed together, and succeeded together. It’s a wonderful thing to see such a great team effort come together. This music is the music of my teenage years so I find that to be particularly gratifying and fun!”.
Ms Rebecca Egyud, Mama Mia!‘s choreographer and the dance teacher at Saguaro High School, talked about the importance of, “rapport amongst the performers” and the difficulties in, “relearning what it’s like to perform as a group…”.
Technology has also changed the performing arts industry. “Before the pandemic, I would practice with flashcards, but now I use Quizlet.com. Everything has become digital,” remarks a junior in the Mama Mia! cast. After nearly a year online, students find themselves relearning how to socialize and collaborate. One of the seniors commented how, “before the pandemic, we kind of took a lot of things for granted: cast bonding and the time we were able to spend on the show. After the pandemic, it made me (and a lot of other people) appreciate the hard work, dedication, and the amount of time we have together. Right now, the entertainment industry is needed more than ever, because that’s what I, and a lot of other people, looked to during quarantine. As we start to come out of this pandemic, I think we can all appreciate a sense of theater family a little more…”.
Put simply, “I think, especially after the pandemic, the fine arts are something that’s needed because theater really helps bring interdisciplinary people together…” (Senior at SHS), and I couldn’t have said it better myself. It won’t be easy to shed the darkness that COVID-19 wrought across the world, but as we enter the next, changing chapter of humanity, we must remember to rekindle our friendships, to work and fail and succeed together, to jump over the hurdles thrown our way, and to make some more memories in this wide world of ours!
So, I say thank you for the music, the memories, and the joyous experience of performing under the stage lights. C’mon, Saguaro High School, let’s bring down the house!
Signing off – Spencer Wareing