Drama Classes Continue Virtually

Sierra Sugarman, Editor-in-Chief

As students nationwide continue to face the challenges of remote learning, Pali’s Visual and Performing Arts Department (VAPA) has identified creative ways of providing enjoyment to the Pali community.

“We are the ones who have to record what we are going through,” VAPA teacher Nancy Fracciolla said. “I think my students really feel like their part at Pali is to help bring something to the students whether it’s making them laugh with Friday Night Live (FNL) or just giving them entertainment.”

Advanced drama is an elective class for students interested in many aspects of theater, including acting, directing and writing. In a typical year, this elective has a lot of movement and interaction with improvisation games and other drama activities, many of which are not possible to incorporate while learning online. 

Last semester, students in advanced drama put together 24-hour monologues. Pali students used Zoom to brainstorm, write and produce their comedic and dramatic monologues while limited to a strict 24-hour timeframe.

New York-based company 24 Hour Plays originally developed the concept of 24-hour monologues during the pandemic, creating an outlet for many thespians to produce original scenes, senior and theater student Bella Dixon explained.

Guests in the performing arts industry were able to join student Zooms and help them create their scenes. Fracchiolla said, “A lot of my friends in the business have a lot of downtime now, so they’re more accessible.”

This semester, advanced drama worked toward their annual scene night that premiered at 7 p.m. on Feb. 17. Scene night is composed of scenes from plays and films that fit a broad theme. The theme varies from year to year and is decided by the advanced drama class; this year the theme was about connection and loss, according to Dixon.

Scenes from “Clybourne Park,” “Hannah and Her Sisters” and “The Children’s Hour” were included among others this year.

The advanced drama class, along with most of the theater department, plans to avoid the subject of the COVID-19 pandemic. “That’s just not a thing that people want to see in art,” Dixon said. “They don’t want to be entertained by what we’re living in right now. They want to have something completely different.”

Beyond the work of the advanced drama class, students are working on two unconventional virtual plays. One play, directed by teacher and sister duo Cheri and Monique Smith, is scheduled to premiere relatively soon. The other play, directed by Fracchiolla, is currently beginning production and is scheduled to be released in late April or early May.

The filming process was very different this year due to COVID-19 safety guidelines on gathering in large groups. Pali actor and junior Nic Libonati described his challenges with the new filming restrictions: “I was sitting on my couch, my camera was in front of me and I was playing as if my fellow actress was sitting right next to me on the couch.” Actors’ phones, Zoom recordings and tripods were used to record scenes. Editing would later join their videos to give the impression the actors were right next to each other.

FNL, another Pali theater program, provides students with the opportunity to write, direct and act in comedy skits, modeled after the late-night show Saturday Night Live. FNL has been moved to Youtube Premiere.

Most of the FNL shows produced this year were filmed in-person, Dixon said.. Students had to sign COVID-19 guideline compliance forms, requiring them to wear masks on set, film outside and remain seven feet away from other crew members.

Dixon also explained that some sketches were written specifically for FNL actors and their family members who are quarantining together.

Because virtual production requires different skills than an in-person show, some FNL members are left without a job in the new environment. “A lot of the crew members who would always be there working shows and moving set pieces haven’t been able to do anything with the club,” Dixon said.

While Fracchiolla misses the live audience, she said that more people are viewing FNL shows online than before. “Lots of people from all over can see it, so that’s kind of cool like friends and family that maybe aren’t here, grandparents are watching it,” she said.

“Once you’re in FNL, you kind of have this pride around it,” Fracciolla said. “There’s people who graduated  eight [or] nine years ago who still have been checking in and watching the shows.”

With upheaval in schools across the country, Pali’s drama department will continue devising solutions and outlets for their eager performers until schools are able to physically reopen.

“It’s our job as artists to be the light, to find hope, to record our experience,” Fracciolla said. “So, I’m super proud of my students, I really am. I am inspired by their resilience, I’m inspired by their passion and their spirit. They really do want to create and I’m so grateful for that.”