What Happened to The Show Must Go On?
Updated: Jun 29, 2021
by Ava Borskey
While the rest of the world finds ways to open up, high school theaters remain dark.
When COVID-19 shut down the theater world on March 12, 2020, I never could have imagined that a year later the curtains would still be closed.
The NFL, NBA and other sports leagues across the nation have managed to find ways to continue, yet theater doors are still shut.
Even, “the professional theater league,” Broadway in New York, remains officially closed until at least the end of May, as social distancing restrictions have not permitted theater performances to reopen with full audiences.
"You’ve got to have your audience because it’s an integral part of the arts, and it’s an integral part of performing,” Melani Glascock said. “It’s never been about keeping my art to myself. It’s always been about sharing my art with other people,” she said.
Glascock has served as theater director for the Livingston Parish Public Schools Talented Arts Program for 21 years. This is the first time that she has been unable to put on a show.
Without a full audience, she just can’t afford to.
While senior athletes will still get to showcase their talents, standing proudly on the courts and fields for games and senior nights, the senior actors and actresses won’t get their last spotlight.
“Ever since I was young, I’ve been thinking about my senior year of theater,” Jessie Jemison said. “And it’s just really depressing to know that I’ll never get that fulfilled.”
Senior year of theater usually meant a starring role. But it always meant a special introduction to the audience before the show. And for me, in my final year, a tearful goodbye afterward as I tracked down every cast member to sign a playbill as a keepsake.
I know I’ve got those playbills stashed away somewhere, but I don’t ever look back at them. I look back at the memories of my three years in the program.
Most of the memories come from the long weeks of rehearsals leading up to a show.
About two months before opening night, we’d hit the ground running with rehearsals nearly every day. On weeknights, we’d start after school around 5 p.m. and end around 9 p.m. On weekends, we’d have all day “all-calls” from 9 a.m. until around 4 p.m.
Rehearsals would always start out as a big group. Livingston Parish Talented Theatre is a parish-wide program connecting students of all ages from 14 different schools.
Every cast member from the second graders to the seniors would circle up. We’d stand shoulder-to-shoulder to stretch and recite ridiculous tongue twisters. We’d organize warm-up games, tossing an imaginary “energy ball” across the room to one another.
But this year, things have been different.
“There has been a general just kind of apathy,” Glascock said. “And I mean students who are always into this.”
Theater gatherings have been limited to class meetings, meaning only 50-minute sessions once-a-week with members from your own school.
When I was in the program, there was only one other member from my individual school.
While rehearsals were where the fun happened, I still enjoyed classes. It offered a sanctioned time to improve line delivery and character development.
But with no show to work toward this year, some students have been skipping classes altogether, especially the seniors, who know there’s no coming back for a final bow.
To me, there was no better feeling as a performer than curtain call. A round of applause erupting from a full house. It was the audible representation of the electricity I felt all night. That energy even carried me through the chores of closing night.
We’d have to stay afterward to clean the rented theater. We’d sweep. We’d deconstruct the handmade and hand-painted sets that volunteers helped create.
We’d sort costumes and props into boxes to be returned to the parents and local businesses who graciously loaned them to us. We sometimes mixed things up in our rush to get out of the theater.
But we weren’t in a hurry to go home. We were desperately trying to make it to Chili’s before it closed at midnight so that we could share one last celebratory meal together as a cast.
“But we don’t have any of that,” Jemison said. “It’s just hard to get together with your old friends when no one is really on the same page. It’s just a letdown,” she said.
The show, the script—that was what kept everyone on the same page. But the unscripted interactions behind the scenes created the real community.
It never mattered that we came from 14 different schools. We often “played” families, and in many ways, we had formed our own real one, too.
Scenes between actors portraying “husband and wife” were never awkward. And if during rehearsals they were, the students were sent down the street for a “fake date” at the local diner, G&J Drive Inn, to get hamburgers and milkshakes.
G&J’s was a popular lunch break spot during all-day rehearsals. The cast would fill the booths, and you’d sit and eat, getting to know which of your friends still picked the lettuce and tomato off their burger before eating it.
“What I’ve noticed most with our kids is they really miss it,” Glascock said. “I think everybody’s doing the best they know how to do. It’s just, emotionally, mentally, physically, it does take a toll. These kids who are artists and actors, they need that camaraderie,” she added later.
I met some of my best friends through theater.
Two of them sat next to me in the audience at the Suma Hall Theater, just a week before the shutdown in 2020. The Livingston Parish Talented Theatre Program was presenting “Frozen, Jr.”
And all three of us were there, adding to the curtain call cheers and helping our alma mater theater program pay its bills.