When schools moved to remote learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic, high school theater clubs closed their curtains. Summit Theatre Club, at west Bend’s Summit High School, is no different — the group’s 1960s-themed production of Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing” planned for April was shelved.
But that hasn’t stopped some of the theater club’s 25 members from performing on a different kind of stage. These Summit High students have posted on the club’s Instagram social media page on a near-daily basis since early April.
The students’ aren’t just trying to entertain. They also believe that keeping the club active virtually helps maintain a sense of camaraderie.
“Once COVID-19 started happening, we wanted to have a bigger online presence for our members who were quarantined at home, not able to see their friends,” said Luke Williams, a junior in the theater club who’s in charge of editing and posting the content to Instagram. “Theater is a community at Summit, and at all schools, so that was something that was lacking after the closure.”
The club’s videos cover a variety of theater-related topics. There’s “Saturday Afternoon Fever,” where club member Isabella Torrance — joined sometimes by her parents and dog — teaches choreography from popular musicals like “Grease” and “Mamma Mia!”
Club member Maya Gardner hosts “Mindfulness Monday,” a short talk show where she calmly talks about good news during the pandemic, and leads the viewer through mental health and breathing exercises.
Williams, a 17-year-old junior at Summit High School, hosts “Film Friday” every week, where he recommends a movie musical to watch at home.
“We try to recommend movie musicals because it combines stage and film acting, which are very different,” Williams said. “So people who are interested in film acting in the future, it takes something familiar to them and exposes them to that, and they get to notice how movies are crafted different form stage productions.”
Ben Russell, an 18-year-old senior in the theater club, hosts “Improv Tuesdays,” where he and other students film improv comedy games. Performing virtually is a bit strange, but Russell said he and other students have adapted.
“There isn’t the feedback of laughter to know if you’re succeeding in entertaining people,” he said. “You just have to go with your gut, and hope that somebody enjoys it.”
Students have also posted interviews with Summit High School alumni who were in the theater club, to talk about their experiences in college-level or professional theater.
Owen Henneman, who graduated from Summit in 2018 and works behind the scenes at the Tower Theatre in Bend, was interviewed in mid-April. When asked to participate in the interview, he said he agreed in a heartbeat.
“I think it’s awesome that they are able to do what they love to do, and bring a little levity and light to a pretty serious situation,” Henneman said. “I’m glad I could be a small part of it.”
Having a creative, performative outlet like this Instagram page is important for students interested in theater, said Lara Okamoto, Summit High School’s theater teacher and auditorium manager.
“Theater kids especially, they really need that contact,” she said. “They need connections and they need a social outlet and they need an audience.”
Okamoto said she’s immensely proud of how her students have still pursued their passions during the pandemic, particularly the seniors.
“It would’ve been easy for the seniors to throw up their hands and say, ‘We’re done,’ but they’ve been really, really amazing leaders,” she said. “They wanted to support the other club members in isolation.”
Williams said he appreciates having something to stave off quarantine boredom.
“Every day, I’m editing those videos, and all week, the rest of the board members are working on their videos,” the high school junior said. “It gives us something to work on and channel our energy into something positive.”