Stages have been dark for over a year, but our city’s high school drama programs are nevertheless meeting the challenge of putting on shows and creating opportunities for students to perform even in these strange times. Enter the creative minds behind this year’s spring productions: Justin Baldridge, who is directing The Iliad, The Odyssey and All of Greek Mythology in 99 Minutes or Less at Santa Barbara High School; Shannon Saleh, who is directing Mamma Mia! at San Marcos High School; and Clark Sayre, who is directing Pippin at Dos Pueblos High School.
Santa Barbara High School Presents: The Iliad, The Odyssey, and All of Greek Mythology in 99 Minutes or Less
April 8-10, 15-17
Tickets at www.sbhstheatre.com
As one can imagine, fitting all of Greek mythology into 99 minutes is a hilarious challenge that necessitates speedy, precise performances by the student actors. With a clock onstage counting down the minutes, the audience can feel the pressure of the ticking time. Baldridge chose this play to give audiences a much-needed laugh: “With this play, it’s one joke after the other. Punch line after punch line. Nothing serious going on over here!”
The production will be live-streamed in real time with all actors wearing masks and social distancing throughout the performance. A straight play has its benefits in the time of COVID, says Baldridge: “With all the COVID restrictions on singing and not knowing what our world would look like in April, choosing a (straight) play allowed us to keep a sense of normalcy for the students.”
San Marcos High School Presents: Mamma Mia!
May 6-8, 13-15
Tickets at smhstheaterdept.com
Mamma Mia! is a jukebox musical full of the bouncy tunes of ABBA, which dictate the pace of this effervescent pop spectacle. On a Greek isle, Sophie is getting married and has secretly invited three of her mother’s ex-lovers (her potential fathers) to the wedding. San Marcos High School has an outdoor amphitheater where the production will take place, and COVID-based precautions are being taken. “This show actually calls for pre-recording on some numbers,” explains Saleh. “We are using this to our advantage, as we do not know what the rules will be for student singers at the time of the show…. Recording the ensemble vocals may allow our dancers to do their choreography in a regular formation and allow all of our ensemble on the stage at the same time.”
As regulations change, San Marcos may be able to move their production inside the performing arts theater; depending on the word from the top, Saleh and her company are prepared to alter their staging to apply to the new space. “It’s a risk to even have planned this musical,” says Saleh, “but I simply cannot allow another spring to go by without having students do what they deserve to do, to perform.”
Dos Pueblos High School Presents: Pippin
Tickets at dptheatrecompany.org
Originally directed by Bob Fosse on Broadway, Pippin is a classic musical coming-of-age story featuring Pippin, the son of Charlemagne. The show is a collaboration between Sayre and his students and includes both real-time and pre-recorded elements. The production will be available via livestream — but you’re going to want to see it in person, where the live performance will be projected on the outside wall of the theater for drive-in patrons. Interspersed throughout the show are live appearances and solos on an outdoor stage.
This multimedia approach has allowed for certain luxuries that can be achieved on film: for instance, the ability to (safely) see the actors’ faces. “I knew we could probably rehearse and perform a show like Pippin under almost any circumstances,” said Sayre, referring to how COVID safety precautions have restricted the theatrical process. He also says producing a show during these times has challenged his assumption of what theater is. “It’s helped me teach students that they can take any limitation or boundary and create something unique and new.”