Justin Baldridge | Credit: Courtesy

The Santa Barbara High School theater department has answered two pressing questions of the season: how to celebrate Halloween, and how to perpetuate the performing arts during the pandemic. While in-person theater remains on hiatus, the SBHS fall production is a series of radio plays by Tony Palermo that offer audiences retro-styled thrills that can be enjoyed from the safety of their homes. Follow ghosts and pirates searching for treasure in the Sargasso Sea in The Pirate’s Curse; encounter a 13th-century phalanx of knights who discover a terrifying secret in Buried Treasure Hunters; and indulge in a classic murder mystery set in an English manor in Detective Rufflethorpe. Says new head of the SBHS theater program, Justin Baldridge, “I thought that opening a virtual performance around Halloween would be a fun idea, especially since many Halloween events have been cancelled this year. The next thought was radio plays: a night of spooky, creepy, or suspenseful shows.”

Theater is challenging even in the best of times. Now, with virtual classes to promote social distancing, rehearsals look a little different than they used to. “All the students … commented on how difficult it is to rehearse in this environment,” says Baldridge. “However, they rallied together in each group, collaborated as ensembles, and strived to produce strong work.”

Each radio play is directed and performed by the students, and the stagecraft kids get in on the fun with student-designed sound effects. Giving the students the agency to execute a creative vision — and then build on that vision based on peer review and collaboration — engages them in the theatrical process despite not being able to literally tread the boards. “I want students to find their creative voices,” says Baldridge. “Students lit up in these projects and showed strong growth from their first performance in class because each student was invested in the final product. They shared their voices, and in collaboration, merged everything together to create their own work of art.”

The radio plays are available for streaming from October 30-November 30 at purplepass.com/sbhstheatre2020.

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