Just before the Akron School for the Arts got remote due to the coronavirus in spring 2020, the cast of A Chorus Line filmed a video of the great ballad of the series “What I Did for Love” in case they didn’t get a chance to return.
A year ago Jada-Lynn Pledger was enthusiastic – back then in her sophomore year at the Akron School for the Arts in Ohio, she was cast as Judy Turner in A Chorus Line, the great spring musical. “She was my first kind of supporting role … I thought, oh yes, I’m with the big dogs, you know? …” recalls Pledger. “And then on March 13th, Friday the 13th, we got the message that the school was going to be closed.”
School classes during the COVID-19 pandemic were challenging, and theater classes – when most children are studying remotely – were especially difficult.
At Akron School for the Arts, A Chorus Line was just weeks away from its first performance when the school closed. But acting teacher Mark Zimmerman decided to get the cast on stage that day to video the great ballad of the series “What I Did for Love” in case they don’t return. (You can see it above.)
Pledger says she and her castmates continued rehearsing on FaceTime in the weeks after school ended to keep them sharp. They still expected the show to go on.
“Then we found out that the school wasn’t open for the rest of the year,” says Pledger. “And that was when the shock came, because when you work towards something that is so decisive and formative, I can still feel this heaviness in my heart from this experience.”
A choir line was canceled and Pledger himself came down with COVID. Since then, she and her classmates have been studying remotely.
Zimmerman says in the classroom that he is used to “controlling the ups and downs of learning and teaching”. But online he found “You have no idea what kind of environment kids are in,” he says. “They mostly don’t turn their cameras on. They mostly don’t turn their microphones on unless they have something to say.”
Pledger says she feels a loss not only to perform live but also to the community that comes with it. “I struggled with the passion I have for it,” she says. “And I can confidently say that a lot of my classmates did too.”
Since then, the Akron School for the Arts has managed to put some shows online. Still, it’s not the same, says Senior Peter Kolodziej.
From an acting standpoint alone, it is difficult to make an emotional connection with someone else’s character when they are like a little box rather than a person in front of you.
“Only from an acting point of view is it difficult to create an emotional connection with someone else’s character when they are like a little box and not like a person in front of you,” says Kolodziej.
Theater children across the country face similar challenges. The students at Long Island’s Great Neck South High School – which worked on a hybrid model, with some students in the classroom, but most of them learning from a distance.
Despite all the obstacles, they worked on A Chorus Line this year. Acting teacher Tommy Marr designed it to be an online production because he thought it could be translated – after all, the show is about dancers at a Broadway audition.
“It’s a lot about speaking directly to the audience,” explains Marr. “And I thought that would work fine on a Zoom platform. I liked the idea that all of these characters wanted to perform, but there are all of these barriers to doing what they want to do, this case makes it through that Audition. In our case, COVID. “
Junior Rosanna Gao says rehearsing music and dance routines through Zoom, let alone making videos at home, has been a challenge.
“Doing the lights, doing camerawork, making sure your costume is good, your makeup is good, and where you stand is good too. So it’s like a whole process. But I think I definitely learned a lot, but it was very difficult. “(In addition to learning how to make video online and managing all of her schoolwork, Gao started the student-run nonprofit organization Music for change during the pandemic.)
You should never underestimate the resilience of teenagers.
Her castmate Elie Weitzman reflects Gao’s feelings. “I didn’t want my senior year to look like this,” says Weitzman. “But I’m very proud that I was able to get something out of this process.”
Marr says despite all of the changes the pandemic has brought his students, he is proud of the way they have adapted. “My line is always that you should never underestimate the resilience of teenagers,” he says.
Once all of this is done, Great Neck South’s production of A Chorus Line will be available online sometime this spring.