Theatre student Sophia Osyf wasn’t sure if Brickell Academy at Old Donation School (ODS) would have a fall semester play when she started eighth grade. But thanks to the creative thinking and hard work of her fellow thespians and teacher Victoria Mitchell, the show must – and will – go on.
Travel back to the 20th century with Sophia and her middle-school castmates in “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play,” streaming online at 7 p.m. Monday, Dec. 21.
Inspired by the classic film starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed, this version is performed in a 1940s radio format with live sound effects. Because the format doesn’t rely as much on visuals as a traditional play, the radio adaptation seemed perfect for rehearsing and performing in a remote-learning environment, Mitchell said.
“It focuses a lot more on voice, articulation and characterization with facial expressions,” she said. “It’s definitely a different acting technique than people are used to. It stretched them in a different way and gave them a unique opportunity.”
Trying to record entire scenes in a virtual Zoom environment proved nearly impossible due to technical snags, so students are recording their parts at home and Mitchell is editing all the video clips into a single performance.
That means Sophia, who plays the female lead “Mary,” had to record her speaking parts without her character’s husband, “George,” being there with her.
“You have to pause and act like you’re reacting to someone else who isn’t there,” Sophia said. On the plus side, you don’t have to memorize the entire script because everything is recorded in segments.
Sophia said her teacher showed a lot of care in helping the 30 cast and crew members.
“She’s been very patient with us in answering all of our questions,” Sophia said.
The work started in October and included online auditions. Mitchell sent a white backdrop and a ring light to the actors’ homes, and gave special directions on how to create sound effects. (In one scene, a character falls through thin ice on a frozen lake. Crushing cornflakes on a baking sheet makes a sound like crackling ice.)
Schools across the division overcame the challenges of COVID-19 to continue their drama programs this year. Some examples: Students at the Visual and Performing Arts Academy at Salem High School wrote and performed an online play, “Wanted: Hope,” based on the events of 2020; First Colonial High School hosted a drive-in style production in its parking lot; and Princess Anne High School presented an original play in November at the Virginia Theatre Association’s virtual conference, where it won several awards.
For costumes and makeup in the ODS play, students kept it simple and mostly used items they could find at home. In addition to watching the movie, they studied the time era of the play – the 1920s through the 1940s.
“It’s interesting to see their interpretations of the characters,” Mitchell said.
Sophia describes her character as modest yet poised. She wears a black turtleneck and uses an upright posture when portraying Mary.
Although Sophia and her castmates may miss the sound of applause echoing through a theater during their performance, they will have a larger audience than normal. Ticketholders can watch the production from anywhere on the internet, including Sophia’s cousins in Georgia.
“They’re very excited because they’ve never been able to see me perform in anything,” she said. “Now they’re able to watch it online.”
Reserve your free tickets by 4 p.m. Dec. 21 for the 7 p.m. show at HERE. A link to view the performance will be sent to the email you provide. “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play” is produced by special arrangement with Playscripts, Inc.(www.playscripts.com).