Coronavirus canceled an Aspen High School musical, but the show went on online
Public health concerns about large gatherings during Aspen’s coronavirus outbreak led to the cancellation of Aspen High School’s spring production of “Guys and Dolls” this weekend. But the show went on (online) Thursday night to a digital audience.
Aspen High theater director Logan Carter got the cancelation call from acting Superintendent Tom Heald on Thursday, hours before the show as she was making final preparations at the 550-seat Aspen District Theatre.
“I was devastated, just crying inconsolably, after these three months of nonstop work with these kids only to cancel at the last minute,” Carter recalled Friday.
But Heald invited Carter to produce one performance, without an audience, and to livestream it online, giving parents, classmates and the Aspen community the opportunity to see it online.
The theater’s tech crew contacted Grassroots TV, the community cable channel. A three-man crew showed up quickly and set up an audio feed and a three-camera professional shoot for the show.
Their “Guys and Dolls” had two casts splitting duties for its planned five performances, totaling 26 actors, 12 crew members and 10 orchestra musicians. Carter called in both casts to do back-to-back performances at 4:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. for Grassroots’ live-streaming audience.
“It may not be what we expected but the process of getting here is the most important part,” a teary-eyed Carter told her students during a brief curtain speech before the first show. “You have succeeded.”
The student cast and crew put on two shows without an audience in the theater – though a few parents, one playing recordings of applause, did show up – and more than 1,600 viewers tuned in live over the course of the night. By Saturday afternoon, more than 1,800 had watched on YouTube.
Because of rights issues with the musical, the video of the play had to be removed from Grassroots’ YouTube channel, but the school does have a file for parents to download and save.
“We did get an audience,” Carter said Friday. “It just wasn’t the one we expected. And we learned that we don’t do it for the applause. That’s the icing on the cake. But the cake is all the work we did already.”
Before the second performance, Carter reassured her cast and crew that the lessons of this unexpected climax of their spring production would serve them well.
“This is life,” Carter said. “Not just in the theater, things happen and the show must go on.”
The students did not make alterations to the show based on coronavirus guidelines – the on-stage kissing and hand-holding went on as rehearsed.
“We’ve kind of been quarantined for the last three weeks rehearsing,” Carter said, adding that they’d otherwise been observing the recommended social distancing protocols and that students were advised to stay home if they had any symptoms. “So I think we were low risk.”
But the public health crisis taking shape beyond the theater doors was apparent during the bows after the second performance: instead of the traditional boughs of flowers, the cast was gifted a bottle of hand sanitizer.
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The Aspen Winter Words series will host four in-person author talks at Paepcke Auditorium in Aspen and two online-only events.