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Watch Now: Amherst high school's theater stays active during pandemic, records competition play

Watch Now: Amherst high school's theater stays active during pandemic, records competition play

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An out-of-this-world experience has come to Amherst County High School’s drama program for a spring production of “The Aliens Have Stolen Our Wives,” an original play written by ACHS instructor Patricia Emmert and her husband.

The challenges of COVID-19 have led Emmert and the drama students to put on their competition play in a pre-recorded performance sent to the Virginia High School League. The school’s theater program participants normally travel in the fall to perform for the VHSL competition and observe other schools’ productions, but this year Emmert and crew had to improvise by recording the performance in an empty auditorium at the high school.

Emmert described the original piece as a “ridiculous, silly, funny” story of a fictional town called Bigelow where men play poker, women go shopping and they enter the aliens as they study human behavior and mating rituals referred to as the SOLs (standard of love).

“I thought it was a lot of fun and the kids have really enjoyed it,” Emmert said. “It’s just what we needed.”

Since the pandemic, the drama program has been in a constant state of adapting. The spring musical last year was scrapped and a late fall production, “Spoon River Anthology,” was held outdoors with characters staying socially distanced in a graveyard setting. Drama students also did a recent improvisational show via Google Meet and plan to hold a live performance April 17 outdoors at the high school.

“When you’re performing, the beautiful thing is the audience is part of the show,” Emmert said. “The kids told me they’re so happy to just hear an audience’s reaction — on time. They’re excited about that.”

The drama club also plans to perform “The Lion King Jr.” in the school’s parking lot the first week of June.

The pre-recorded production of “The Aliens Have Stolen Our Wives” will be posted on Amherst Theatre’s website at emmertstheatre.com.

“It’s all new to us,” Emmert said of putting on a show without a live audience. “This is the first time we’ve ever recorded a show.”

The recording includes a full performance in real time without any editing and the camera doesn’t pick up all the nuisances of each character, she said.

“They don’t get any feedback from an empty theater room,” Emmert said.

Despite the challenges, the students made the most of it.

“We have had a lot of fun with this show,” Emmert said. “This play just kind of started as a joke but we ended up really liking it.”

Colson Davis, a senior, said he didn’t think he was going to have the chance to be on the stage this year and is thankful to have the chance to perform.

“Just to be able to do even a recording is a blessing in my book and I’m really grateful for the opportunities Mrs. Emmert gave us this year,” Davis said.

Student Eleanor McPhatter said the performance felt much the same but different in a lot of ways as well. “We did it like a normal show, basically,” McPhatter said.

Nico Thomas said he enjoyed playing a character he described as an egotist, which contradicts Thomas’s personality. The performance without live laughter or applause is different and he had a good time, adding the theater cast is a “one-of-a-kind.”

“Mrs. Emmert did so many things to make the production fun,” said Caroline Cockerham, who played a narrator for the show. “It was really fun how she managed to make this like a normal play, even though it’s not like a normal year.”

Emmert said some students have expressed disappointment and frustrations with the interruptions to daily life COVID-19 has caused, as well as missing out on a range of experiences.

“The more we get be together in person live, the more we get to heal,” Emmert said of dealing with the pandemic. “They’re healing. It was a gut shot. These kids who do theater just want to interact and be engaged. Theater kids have always had to be that way. Something breaks, something shatters, a line is dropped — they’re trained to adapt.”

Emmert said she wants the students to keep moving forward and embrace what works this year.

“We’ve got to figure this out together — and they just did.”

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