The first show for Amherst County High School in the era of COVID-19 is set for Nov. 19, a date drama instructor Patricia Emmert and students eagerly have anticipated for months.
Assembled on the front field of the high school on Nov. 6, a warm morning, Amherst theater students rehearsed scenes from “Spoon River Anthology,” a play set in a cemetery in post-Civil War America where the dead look back on their lives.
Emmert said the outdoor play is a beautiful piece of material for the drama program to embrace because it accommodates social distancing.
“We’re going to do it at night. We don’t know what that will feel like,” Emmert said of her students performing outside with lighting set up.
While rain and temperatures are elements Emmert has fingers crossed will cooperate for a satisfactory theater experience on Nov. 19 and Nov. 20, two makeup dates are planned the following week if necessary. After missing out on the spring musical, which Emmert described as a heartbreaking decision because of the coronavirus, she said many teachers and faculty are fully supportive of making sure the show goes on.
“They’re so many people in this building supporting it,” Emmert said, adding the students are happy to get back to performing. “They’re so grateful to do something...We have so many hoops to jump through but everyone has such a great attitude.”
Amherst County Public Schools returned to school Sept. 9 under a system of hybrid in-person learning with social distancing and remote learning through an academy exceeding well more than 1,000 students. Under the system, ACHS students are splitting a few days a week in school and at home, which has been a challenge in itself for the drama program.
“We’ve had three rehearsals where they’ve all been together,” Emmert said. “We’re just taking it one day a time.”
The audience is asked to bring chairs and blankets the nights of the performance and brace for potential cold temperatures.
Senior Logan Scruggs — who plays two characters, politician Hamilton Greene and Daniel M’Cumber, a lady’s man — said the period costumes are a big part of the production. The heat, even in the late fall, can make some outdoor rehearsing challenging along with acting without full set pieces yet in place.
“We improvise, adapt and overcome at Amherst [theater],” Scruggs said. “It’s what we always had to do and what we keep on doing.”
Since reopening in September Amherst County Public Schools has yet to close down schools because of COVID-19 and has contact tracing procedures in place for positive cases, which include quarantining students and staff who have been exposed.
Amherst County as of Nov. 10 had 657 cases of the disease with 26 hospitalizations and six deaths, according to the Virginia Department of Health.
Scruggs said with the state of the world and schools possibly not reopening, he was nervous about how the drama program would be affected.
“This experience, the same with any production we put on, is just an awesome feeling to be able to come together as a theater family and put on a show for people to enjoy,” Scruggs said. “...We’re doing the best with what we have and we’re just excited to be out here working together and putting something on.”
Senior Colson Davis has been involved with theater all four years and said though the upcoming production is a bit different from the norm the students are keeping a positive mindset.
“Even if it’s outdoors, it brings another element to the play,” Davis said, adding of the cemetery effect: “Why would you want to be inside for that?”
He said he is thankful to the division for the opportunity to perform, even under restrictions and guidelines of keeping distance from his classmates for safety reasons.
“Being in theater is the highlight of my day,” Davis said.
The play is taking place in the field where former tennis courts were removed several years ago and close to an outdoor classroom dedicated in late 2018 in honor of Ernie Guill, a longtime Amherst educator and retired former ACHS principal.