The show must go on: In a pandemic, New Milford High adapts musical to COVID protocol

Photo of Currie Engel
The show must go on at New Milford High where students are prepping for 'The Addams Family'  musical. During rhe COVID-19 pandemic, much of the rehearsing is happening virtually while students also prep at school at a social distance.

The show must go on at New Milford High where students are prepping for 'The Addams Family'  musical. During rhe COVID-19 pandemic, much of the rehearsing is happening virtually while students also prep at school at a social distance.

Photos courtesy of Allessandro Amenta

NEW MILFORD— On Thursday at 6pm, as families tucked into dinners and snow plows hurtled through the town, the cast of New Milford High School’s spring musical logged onto Google Classroom for a dance rehearsal.

Although their in-person, socially-distanced rehearsal was moved online due to snow, they still walked through the moves, step-by-step, in preparation for filming in April.

The Addams Family, a musical New Milford High School planned to open last spring, has been brought back to life this year and re-purposed into a virtual theater experience. The show’s director, Alessandro Amenta, has a plan to film, edit, and produce the show this year with masks, social distancing guidelines and all. The vocals for the two-hour show will be pre-recorded, and the crew will film the action on stage over a two-week period.

Amenta, an English and video production teacher at the school, wants to ensure that this year, the show does, in fact, go on— with multiple camera shots and closer angles.

“We’re really treating it like a film and theater hybrid. Think of Hamilton on Disney+, we’re going to do that,” Amenta said. “You get the best seat in the house that way.”

Last year, the cast was just a week and a half away from opening night when everything came to a grinding halt due to the pandemic. After spending over $7,000 of the theater budget on rights to the script and the show, along with the myriad other costs of putting on a musical, the painted drop cloths and costumes gathered dust. The high school theater program staff gets a stipend but the department doesn’t get a budget from the school, and had used its own funds to pay for the show. Then, it was abruptly called off.

The budget was in trouble this year. Amenta knew they’d have to raise funds to make it work, and he talked to several other theater directors about fundraising. The answer was almost always selling tickets.

“Over and over the answer is really just the show. Everything revolves around the show,” Amenta said. So they’ve had to get creative. “We’re not going to be selling pies during the pandemic, I can’t have a ton of parent volunteers gather this year and make something happen.”

Instead, the theater department is selling streaming passes to their filmed show, and doing a fundraiser on Snap! Raise, an online platform, to raise money for the department. With help from students, parents, friends, and alumni, they’ve already succeeded in raising nearly $7,500 online, and plan to sell ad spots in their virtual program and commercial spots for intermission to supplement this.

Rehearsals were remote at first, with scheduled calls to listen to music and go over notes. Then, once teachers got the go-ahead in mid-January, they began socially distanced rehearsals in the auditorium, marking off seats, and rotating in and out of singing rooms every 30 minutes to let air circulate. Even with restrictions in place, the musical has allowed the small but determined cast to safely come together to sing and dance and act.

“It’s a blessing. It really is. It’s a miracle,” said New Milford High School senior Joshua Abel, who is playing Uncle Fester for the second year in a row. “One of the greatest joys and things I look forward to is going to rehearsals.”

Masks and all, Abel is happy to be back with his friends, and said he’s soaking up every moment. “It’s nice to see someone face-to-face, even with a mask on.”

“The students have said to me it is the only thing they have that they can grab on to,” said music director and choral teacher Rebekka Rosen. Since students can’t sing all together, they instead work in small groups that rotate to let rooms recirculate with fresh air every 30 minutes. Rosen can’t be everywhere at once, so she has given students leadership of leading the different musical sections. Abel is one of these leaders.

“They’re like mini music teachers in the making, running the music rehearsals,” Rosen said.

Amenta has loved seeing his students laughing and having fun at rehearsals. “In a year that’s taken so much away from them, it’s been wonderful to see them happy and excited about working on something again.”

To Amenta, the show is for the kids, but also for the community at large. He said the high school spring musical is a local favorite, and that people missed the tradition last year.

“There was this real desire to escape, to go and enjoy a story for a little while,” Amenta said of his observations during the pandemic. “I knew that we would need to do something like that for everyone, and keep the tradition going.”

Amenta and Rosen said the show itself offers reflection on the current moment: it’s all about family.

“That’s something that I think will carry much more weight this year,” Amenta said. “They love each other— they’re a little kooky, they’re a little different— but what’s always been the brand of the Addams family is that they’re a family that stands by each other.”