Editor’s Note: This is part of a series of stories about the region’s high school theatrical productions for the 2021-22 school year.
As the school year approaches, high schools in the Erie region are busy preparing for their upcoming theater seasons.
Theater directors at Mercyhurst Preparatory School, General McLane High School and McDowell High School plan to showcase their full theater seasons even as COVID-19 mitigation guidelines evolve .
“Planning” is the key word for high school theaters, even outside of the coronavirus pandemic. Unlike community theaters, which can plan a season in advance, high school theaters function primarily to educate students and therefore must select shows that will best serve the student body. The updated masks and uncertainty guidelines for the delta variant of COVID-19 could also affect rehearsals and audience size differently than they would affect community theaters, so high school theater directors still need to be prepared to pivot in case things change.
Mercyhurst Prep will revert to its traditional production format of musicals in the fall and spring and a play in the winter, after moving away from the format last year in favor of streaming radio plays and of a recorded and streamed spring musical. This year, the plan is to return to the public in person with a fall production of Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” in November. The updated indoor mask guidelines will not deter Mercyhurst Theater Program Director Arthur Martone, who previously used special masks for vocals and orchestra when recording the musical from spring and plan to use them again.
Online theater:Mercyhurst Prep Students Present Musical “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” Online
“They have large open areas up front that allow for more resonance,” Martone said. “They are performing exceptionally well.”
Martone, along with the directors of General McLane and McDowell, have highlighted student safety as their main concern.
General McLane opens with another spectacular Disney classic, which plans a fall production of “Beauty and the Beast”. Director Bruce Yates is hoping his students can perform this great fall musical, as they weren’t able to do last year. He’s also looking forward to performing General McLane’s traditional Broadway dinner theater in the spring.
“Last year we had to move it at the end of the year and we did it outside, and it was very successful,” said Yates, who wants to give students the opportunity to perform in front of an audience.
Fish tale:Cathedral Prep and Villa Maria students present the musical “Big Fish” in person
He also noted that the new school district superintendent General McLane is very supportive of what they want to do and will work with him to provide a great theater experience.
Like Mercyhurst and General McLane, McDowell is also returning to its traditional format, which consists of two musicals, a dinner theater, and a play. Brent Johnson, the director of McDowell’s theater program, plans to announce the shows one at a time so as not to disappoint students if a scheduled show needs to be canceled or changed. Nonetheless, Johnson is optimistic about how his students will perform over the next school year.
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“Our district is extremely supportive of our theater and music programs and they are doing everything they can to ensure that we can participate as closely as possible as possible,” said Johnson, who added that he hopes that the community will come to see the shows. “The kids really appreciate the support from the public so hopefully everyone can find a way to access the seats.”
These aren’t the only high schools in the area with exciting theater projects in the works. Watch for more interviews with high school theater directors in the coming weeks.