“Everything is 20/20 in hindsight,” they say – although the reference may no longer be widely used after everything the world has gone through so far this year. With respect to our live show, Zoom Out, and converting classes from in-person to virtual within a week, there were most definitely lessons learned. But with social distancing weaving its way into our lives with consistency, and perhaps longevity, the technology will continue to develop, and as educators, we will continue to adapt. Just as doctors take a Hippocratic oath to do everything they can for their patients, teachers do everything they can to help their students, even, and especially in times of adversity.
In mid-March, when country and state closures rapidly swept across the globe, and isolation became the norm, platforms like Google Learning and Zoom became the classroom. At Prince Dance Institute, here in Hawaii, we treated the shifts like some sort of improvisational piece – we weren’t sure what classes, and our spring performance, would look like, but we knew it was imperative that we “Keep calm and dance on.” Artistic Director Angel Prince was quick to get all the classes converted to the Zoom platform, but the question of the spring show loomed in the shadows of the unknown. At that point, Governor David Ige had issued a mandatory stay-at-home order through May, and our show was scheduled for May 2-3. It was obvious that we wouldn’t be able to perform the original dates, but would the show just be postponed for a couple of weeks or a month or a year?
Angel and I were constantly in touch during this period, as we had been working all year together on creating the show, we were meant to be performing, Still: En Route. I think we both knew the show would need to be postponed until 2021, but it felt both necessary and cathartic to discuss all possible options. When we received word from the Kahilu Theatre that the remainder of their season had been postponed until next year, our decision was clear – we would have to postpone as well. But that decision left a large question lingering… do we just settle on not having a show? Teach our classes, tell our students ‘sorry but you won’t be performing this year’, or do we stay true to the Hippocratic oath traditional to the theater; that “the show must go on!”
We chose the latter (of course) and dove in. Angel did endless research on how to host a zoom webinar that could be broadcast worldwide, we had weekly meetings with our teachers to discuss how to put all the pieces together, and I wrote up characters that could give us perspective and insight into current events. Angel and I agreed that if we were going to do a show like this we might as well take the bull by the horns and create a commentary relevant to the times. We wrote a show that was based 1,111 years in the future when health care and education are universal, and the period of Covid-19 is referred to as “The Great Shift,” when humans were essentially awakened.
We had a lot of fun with the script, and the students and teachers were incredible in their ability to adapt. It was difficult and required concentration and commitment that rivaled a live show, but the show went on! And it will live on forever since it was recorded during the live broadcast!
Our technical and dress rehearsals were quite distinct from what tech week usually looks like. In our homes, isolated, on a computer, with headphones on, hitting buttons versus calling cues over the headset. Yet the feeling was largely the same. During dress rehearsal and the live show, my heart was beating in my chest, anxious for my students, knowing that they were on their own from their respective Wi-Fi signals in their homes – as opposed to stepping on to the stage. In either scenario, as a teacher, there’s nothing else you can do, your students on their own – a stage is a stage, whether virtual or physical, Live performing is indeed live. But the students pulled it off, and, in the background, the tech team (myself, Angel Prince, and Danny Waddell), managed to broadcast a live show worldwide. The learning curve was steep, and while there are things we may have done differently in hindsight, it was amazing what we managed to pull off in such a short time and with zero notice. It turns out the magic of the theater extends beyond its four walls and is indeed in the hearts of its players.
We would like to thank all the students that were involved, their families for supporting them, our Prince Dance Institute teachers, and of course, most importantly the audience that tuned in to make it all a reality!
Stay safe wherever you are, cheers to a bright future, and remember, the show must go on!
You can watch the full performance of Zoom Out on PDI’s website.
Noelani Isabella Anderson is from the Hamakua Coast, studied Theatre at Chapman University, and teaches Musical Theatre and Acting Technique for Prince Dance Institute, North Hawaii’s Performing Arts School, where she is also Managing Director.