Three weeks before the big show, Tri-City United students were memorizing their lines, practicing their pitch and working on their choreography in preparation for 2020’s upcoming fall performance of High School Musical. But suddenly, COVID-19 case rates spiked, students were back to distance learning and the TCU fall musical was postponed indefinitely.
Five months later, the students finally had the chance to take the stage after what might be the longest stretch of rehearsals for a show in school history. On March 27 and March 28, TCU’s now spring performance of “High School Musical” was put on the TCU stage and shared with the wider community over Vimeo.
“It was a little bit of a roller coaster,” said Director Sarah Meija. “We had to take almost a two-month break before going back to practice again and so we kind of had to relearn what we had done in the fall.”
Senior Alex Bass, who portrays one of the central antagonists Ryan Evans, recalled the disappointment the cast felt when they had to resume distance learning and the worry about what it would mean for practices.
“We were all very frustrated knowing that we had to go back to schooling full-time at home,” said Bass. “When I thought about it for the musical, I thought ‘Oh, this is going to make practicing really hard.’”
But Meija reminded the cast that they were all in this together, and they worked practices around the restrictions. The cast turned to Google Meets, where they practiced reading lines with one another, singing and even following each others’ steps.
“It was something different than the normal setting we’re used to where we’re all on stage at the palace we’re going to be performing,” said Bass. “But just the fact that Ms. Meija made the initiative for us to have different people to talk to while at home was a nice change of pace for us and allowed us to do things and the musical was not just in the back of our head.”
When TCU returned to in-person learning, the cast and crew began to pick up the pieces of what they had practiced all season. They still had a few more hurdles to get through, however. In February, several leads were forced to quarantine due to close contact with a confirmed case, which meant the cast had to practice separately.
They were also adjusting to a new space. This was the school’s first musical production at the new performing arts center. At the same time, the crew had to work out the auditorium’s streaming software so that the musical would be ready to broadcast to those who couldn’t attend.
But when the actors and crewmembers finally had their chance to put on the musical, all of the hardship was worth it.
“The fact that we as kids can bring our silly positive, freaky attitudes into a character we are given and with our friends bring those characters to life for our family, our friends, our peers and just have fun,” said Bass. “Our friends in the cast, we’re all really excited for each other to bring the characters to life.”
Meija believed that the light-hearted nature of “High School Musical” also brought some levity to the students and the community in a year defined by the challenges of the pandemic. The musical follows a budding romance between school basketball star Troy Bolton, played by Aven Prigge, and scholastic decathlete Gabriella Montez (Marissa Gare), who break out of their cliques to audition for the school musical together. School diva Sharpay Evans (Nicole Sorenson) and her twin Ryan Evans (Alex Bass) try to steal back the spotlight by sabotaging their relationship.
“I think it’s a fun, light-hearted show so in a year where you needed to keep everybody going that part helped,” said Meija.