Summer Theatre Showcase debuts, wrapping up the Summer Rising 2021 Theatre Workshop

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Last Wednesday, the Townsend Harris Theatre Workshop program debuted the Summer Theatre Showcase, a show consisting of four individual performances of about 10 minutes in length. Taught by English teacher Ryan Dunbar, the workshop was part of the Summer Rising 2021 program at THHS. The program spanned from July 12 to August 10, with the Showcase premiering in its final session.  

Harrisites initially joined the Theatre Workshop for a variety of reasons.  Rising sophomore Kaia Lain said her goals were “honestly just to have a lot of fun. We didn’t really know what we were going to get into, so it was just really nice to meet a bunch of people and do a whole show.” Rising junior Angela Guarini shared a similar sentiment: “I wanted to see other people and spend time with them,” she said. “This was my first time being in a production so I felt that was a good way to start the year.” Alternatively, rising freshman Xavier Murphy sought to focus on his theatrical aspirations through the program. “I just wanted to get better at acting and…I [wanted to] know other people when I join the actual play during the school year,” he said. 

Although the end result of the workshop was a live performance, the goal was not entirely definite from the program’s inception. Mr. Dunbar said, “I had this side goal of maybe being able to put on a production for other camps, but I wasn’t one hundred percent confident since it was the first time we were doing it, and we only had eight sessions, which isn’t a lot of time.” However, as the workshop progressed, it became increasingly clear that putting on a final performance was indeed possible. Mr. Dunbar said, “Once I saw the students and the progress they were making, I was like, ‘I think we could do this’ and they were all on board. The number of students and their willingness definitely made those goals in the back of my mind come into focus.”

Once the plan to perform a live production was set in stone, a myriad of obstacles still stood in the way. Rising junior Kristen Song, an actor, among other roles, in the production, said, “We only had two and a half weeks to prepare and memorize our lines. It’s just a matter of getting them down by yourself, but there is also the difficulty of dialoguing and knowing when to start your lines and who finishes first.” Angela encountered the same issue. “When I first started, I didn’t think I was going to be able to memorize all the lines, but I did and I am really proud of myself for that. It was a nice reminder that you can do more than you think you can.” 

In addition to memorization challenges, actors faced issues with performing in masks. “I got them see-through panel masks so you can see people’s faces but it did not help with projection. Some of the actors didn’t use them because they were uncomfortable,” Mr. Dunbar said. Kristen added that “the masks had an effect on our diction. If we stretched out our mouths too much our masks would fall off and if we stretched too little the audience would not have been able to hear us. It’s a lot of getting used to but once you get used to it, it is not that much of a hindrance.” 

There were significant roadblocks faced in tech design as well. Lighting proved to be the biggest challenge, Mr. Dunbar said. “Our spotlight switch is broken, so we had to keep unplugging and plugging it back in. We found out that our spotlight makes a lot of noise, so it’s a little hard to project from all of those ambient noises.” 

Rising freshman Jennifer Piao and rising junior Zoey Zhang, both in charge of Light and Sound during the production, expressed the same grievances. “We had a lot of malfunctioning equipment so we had to work around that,” Jennifer shared. “There was a lot of responsibility on two people’s shoulders, but at the end of the day it still felt like we contributed a lot to the performance despite not being on stage.” 

Despite the numerous issues that arose, the group managed to persevere and perform the show nonetheless. “This was our best run yet. Everything just really came together in the end. The parts that were supposed to be funny really came out funny,” Zoey said. Kristen shared a similar sentiment: “It was honestly exhilarating. To be fair this year was messy due to the curtain changes, but somehow everyone pulled through and it was just really amazing to see everyone having fun.” 

Since the showcase concluded the five week program, students reflected on their overall experiences. “It was super fun to get to meet all these people because I haven’t met a ton of people from school,” Kaia said. “It will be something great that I can show to people,” Angela added. Zoey said, “It was a really good experience, one that I think I will never forget.” 

When asked about the future of the Theatre Workshop and what could be improved upon, Xavier suggested exploring different dramatic expressions, such as silent plays, while Mr. Dunbar expressed interest in featuring all student-written performances. Kaia, citing the limited 10-minute duration of each play in the showcase, said, “It’d be great if we had more people and more time.”  

“My goal is to keep [the Theatre Workshop] running every year. I think it just gives everybody a space to kind of pursue their passion when school isn’t in session so you’re not dealing with other stresses,” Mr. Dunbar said of his plans for future summers. “I really like the idea of this community of actors coming together during the summer to do this thing.”

Photo by Karen Lin