In a world where even Broadway is shut down, how could any school possibly pull off putting on a play? Well, the Albany Academies came up with a great way despite social distancing, masks, cohorts, and capacity caps. Instead of putting on a play for a live audience, the school decided to put on a play, film it, and then stream it to an audience.
The play Almost, Maine was selected because of its scene structure and characters. Each scene had a maximum of three characters on stage at the same time, and the storyline could be adapted to include masks and social distancing. The directors took some creative liberties to get around scenes that involved necessary contact, and the result was impressive. From an observer’s perspective, it did not look like anything was tweaked at all.
The actors came to rehearsal every day, just like plays of the past, only this time, they were to act in front of a camera instead of an audience. Because the play was to be filmed, there was slightly more room for error than in a live production. Actors could still call for line even while filming thanks to the magic of post-production. However, the extremely talented cast rarely needed to call for line, even though they had a slightly shorter amount of time to learn their lines and blocking. After all, editing the final product would take time, so the play needed to be done nearly two-and-a-half weeks before the day it was to be streamed.
Three cameras were to be used on the day of shooting. Two cameras pivoted to follow moving actors and get a closer shot, and the third was a stationary camera capturing the whole stage. My job was to operate one of the two moving cameras. Much like operating a following spotlight on a stage, it was my job to make sure the actors stayed in view and their performance was captured entirely. I had to make sure the camera never went out of focus or moved too fast, as those mistakes would be greatly amplified once the film went through the editing process.
We are extremely lucky at the Academies that we even got to put on a play at all. It was a meticulous process, and I am truly impressed by the raw talent that went into the production of the play. The acting was truly fantastic. Having cameras instead of an audience seemed to have virtually no effect on the actors, who were as prepared and genuine as ever. The small crew, only myself and three others, worked hard to make sure the cameras, lights, and sound were working properly to showcase the actors as best we could. And finally, the creativity of the directing made this show truly extraordinary. Overall, putting on a show in the COVID-19 era took innovation and creativity, but it was not even close to being impossible.