When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down schools, Doug and Elizabeth West were determined to keep the Rochester High School Drama program working, even if it meant doing so online.
And while they are proud of the work of the students who acted through an entire season of virtual shows last year, they said no online platform can compare to being able to be back together in person this year.
“We are so glad to be back on stage instead of Zooming,” Elizabeth West said.
For its first in-person show since the beginning of the COVID pandemic, Rochester High School Drama will present “William Shakespeare's Tempest,” opening Nov. 19. Crafted after the classic Shakespeare tale “The Tempest” it is the story of Prospero (portrayed by Ethan Jenkins) and his daughter Miranda (portrayed by Aleena Hurd), who have been shipwrecked on an island for 12 years. Prospero is also the former Duke of Milan and a sorcerer who creates a storm that shipwrecks his brother and usurper Duke Antony (portrayed by Eric Ferrante) along with his son FerFerdinand (portrayed by Brandon Ryniker) and daughter Sylvia (portrayed by Paige Mendez Baker). Also shipwrecked are: Queen Celeste (portrayed by Hannah Brooks); Lady Trinket (portrayed by Daniela Damone); Lady Geraldine (portrayed by Maya Ashlee); Lady Adriana (portrayed by Kyndra Gamez); and Lady Eugenie (portrayed by Mileena Smith).
Prospero’s plans are turned upside down when Miranda meets and falls for Ferdinand, who Antony believes perished in the wreck. And all the while Prospero’s slave, the sea spirit Caliban (portrayed by Corey Parris) plots to rid himself of his master while being thwarted by the air spirit Ariel (portrayed by Coreyna Parris).
Rochester Drama’s version of “Tempest” is set in a Victorian-era inspired style. Elizabeth West said they have grand plans for the sets, including a ship that breaks apart and a two-story tree house, which are being built by the students in Doug’s stage tech class.
“We’re trying to make it a big ‘wow, we’re back on stage,’” Elizabeth West said.
Elizabeth West often writes original pieces for Rochester Drama casts or adapts traditional stories for the casts they have. In the case of “Tempest” she did not write an entirely new piece, but made minor changes to the original, including switching the gender of some of the characters to fit their actors and actresses and modernizing some of Shakespeare’s original wording.
“Shakespeare is not only hard for the students to learn the words but hard for audiences to understand, so I changed it to make it a little more approachable,” she said.
The cast has had to adapt to a new normal on the stage this year, including rehearsing with masks on. Elizabeth said a kiss between the young lovers had to be cut and they are waiting to find out if the two will even be able to hold hands. Beyond practical matters, many of the members of this cast have been active in the Rochester drama program but have never actually had the opportunity to be in an in-person show before.
“A lot of them, when they walked into the building, had never been on this stage,” Elizabeth said.
The young thespians said live theater requires a lot more mental and physical work. And having the entire cast in one room together is something they may have taken for granted before, said Mendez Baker, but no longer.
“We’re actually getting to know each other better now, so it actually makes our acting better,” she said.
Ryniker, who graduated in the spring, said he was ecstatic to be able to come back to his alma mater and act after spending his senior year acting in virtual shows. He noted that he started his high school career acting on the Rochester stage, then moved to Zoom last year, and said it felt good to be able to return to the stage.
“It feels like home up here instead of sitting in front of a screen saying lines,” Ryniker said.
This year’s Rochester High Drama season will also include a spring production of “David Bowie’s Labyrinth.”
If You Go…
What: Rochester High School Drama Presents “William Shakepeare’s Tempest”
When: 7 p.m. Nov. 19-20
Where: Rochester High School
Cost: $10 per person. Masking and social distancing with those outside your family required
Info: @roch.drama on Facebook