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Idaho Theater for Youth

Idaho Shakespeare Festival

The tours looked different this year because of Covid-19. Once it became apparent that schools would be primarily online or in hybrid mode for the safety of staff and students, ISF worked to produce recorded productions sent via a Vimeo link.

The ITY play was The Disbelievable Domain of Zee based on The Wizard of OZ, where the children find themselves stuck in a video game, created by an older, troubled student. They must learn to work with each other as a team to find their way out of the game. In the plot, ISF showed the struggles many students have felt learning in the virtual environment in the hopes that students would feel a connection.

Shakespearience produced Hamlet, set in a zoom-style fantasy world, driven by technology—with many of the characters coming together for scenes via meeting links or facetime. ISF felt students would understand and relate to this, given the technology relied on for social interaction in 2020-21.

The Essential Question that guided our projects’ focus was:

What sets theater apart from other art as a way to communicate ideas and concepts to the wider world?

The Covid 19 pandemic and resulting shutdowns really helped ISF and our community answer the essential question this year. What truly sets theater apart from other art forms is the unquantifiable spark that comes between audience and actor. In the tours case, when students and the acting company meet in an agreed upon space and a spontaneous connection happens?Beautiful art-filled moments invite inspiration, questions, laughter, embarrassment, dislike, need, and even guilt. Every type of human feeling can come from that connection.
So, what happens in a year when the traditional connection is cut off because of a pandemics and virtual school? ISF, much like the rest of the world, looked to non-traditional means to form connections. While virtual productions are not ideal, ISF was still able to create plays that reached into student’s homes, ones that still asked them to analyze and dig deep into the text and the story to get at the root of the storytelling that is theater and the messages within the work.

At the conclusion of the project, students responded to questions related to the identified Standards:

Despite the different format this year, we still heard from students and teachers, both in our surveys and through zoom communications.. Some liked the virtual productions, and some seem to prefer the in-person plays. When asked questions like, “What makes theater art?” Many just lamented the lack of a live performance inside their schools and talked about the struggle with online school in general this year. We also talked about “Which characters they related to?” Or if the online production was relatable in any way. The responses were varied.

Character connections:
“I probably related most to Horatio. We both want to protect our friends and will be a reliable person. If we can’t convince them to avoid something, then we go with them in case anything goes awry.”

In terms of relatability:
“Since the story took place in a more modern world, I was able to relate to a lot of things, like, the fact that the story took place in a virtual world, almost everyone in the whole world can relate to that because of the pandemic. Also, when there was Ophelia’s dad who could not figure out how to work technology, we were all were able to relate to that because we all have parents that may not be the best with technology.”

Impact

In all the years the ISF has been producing the tours, this year felt particularly poignant.
Establishing a way to still connect with students proved to be a challenge during the pandemic. We spent many years saying that live theater matters and it does—connecting us in ways that movies and TV shows do not, but what happens if this kind of an encounter is unable to occur? ISF still wanted to have an theatrical impact on the youth of Idaho.

Our staff worked to learn new techniques, many that students themselves also had to learn. We connected remotely, rehearsed, and filmed all in separate spaces, producing film to then be edited and sent out electronically, along with question-and-answer session via links and surveys. It was not ideal and felt distant and yet, we STILL connected—we persevered as the students did. We produced a show that moved kids enough to still reach out and to think about the play in relation to their own life experiences. Many teachers sent us messages too thanking us for still producing plays this year.

Ultimately, it made ISF stronger to think creatively in reaching our audience and showed that the human connection is the most important part of the equation, the spark that lights the way to art.

Reflection

Without support from our community and Idaho Commission on the Arts, these school tours would not be possible. While ISF is lucky enough to hear from schools often about what they liked and did not like about each show we provide, we are just now collecting materials because of the virtual nature of this year’s production:

Teachers:
—The kids were totally engaged in the play and activities. So fun!! Thank you!
Trina Hallenberger, Eagle Middle School

—They were a bit down about not going to watch the play live, but this play was perfect for the virtual audience. My class especially loved the chance to dance, more so wiggle, and move around.
Angie Eldredge, Chief Tahgee Elementary

Students:
—You guys did good for having to do it online instead of in person (: good job!
9th grader, Orofino

We learned that despite a challenging year, we were still able to show kids options for creating art during troubling times and that those connections can happen anywhere, if you are open to them. The students and teachers met us halfway in this endeavor and for that we are forever grateful. Our hope is that they were as inspired as we were to have this in such a dark year and that the 2021-2022 school year offers options for in person theater again.

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