Valley Catholic School in Beaverton performed two plays in November. (Courtesy Valley Catholic High School)
Valley Catholic School in Beaverton performed two plays in November. (Courtesy Valley Catholic High School)
SALEM — Blanchet Catholic High School’s performance run of “High School Musical” abruptly ended March 12, 2020, when the State of Oregon closed all schools and suspended all nonessential activities. Blanchet President Bob Weber expressed the school’s “intention to reschedule and hold most, if not all, of [the postponed] events at some point this spring.” Sadly, as was the case for every other western Oregon Catholic high school, the shows of last spring did not go on. High schools across the state canceled their dramas, planning to reschedule, but as the pandemic kept schools online, theater departments learned to adapt to the circumstances.

Blanchet’s drama department announced two sets of virtual plays for the 2020-21 school year. Both runs are one-act productions, chosen for flexibility and their allowance for socially distant rehearsals and performances. Longtime director Kasey Roberts and new drama teacher Shea White-Toney, a Blanchet alumnus, collaborated to direct both productions, the first of which ran in November and the second of which will run in April.

At St. Mary’s Academy in Portland, the cast and crew of “Mary Poppins” were grateful that they completed their performance run just before the shutdown last March. However, with September’s conditions, live shows this school year were out of the question. “We decided early this fall that we were committed to providing as much theater as we possibly could,” said drama director Shannon More. “I think [our theater department] has worked incredibly hard to create community even though we could not be together in person.”

St. Mary’s Academy produced two virtual performances this fall, a documentary-style Halloween show and a virtual “story slam.” In the spring, they will be producing a hybrid version of the musical “Something Rotten!” with physical and virtual actors. The show will be recorded and livestreamed. The student-directed one-act festival will also be virtual and streamed live.

In Milwaukie, La Salle Prep produced a recorded version of “The Giver” in December. The play, adapted from Lois Lowry’s novel, was filmed onstage and shown to families in the parking lot, drive-in style. “It was a completely new world for [the students], for myself, for all of us, and a wholly different way of approaching storytelling,” said theater teacher and director Michael Shelton. La Salle has not yet reported their drama department’s plans for the spring.

The cast and crew of Valley Catholic High School’s March 2020 run of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” performed just one weekend of shows before the school shut down. “It was devastating to all of us, especially those cast members who had been double-cast as leads and had only one performance,” remarked theater director and drama teacher Ginnie Paterson. Those involved in drama at Valley Catholic continued to hold meetings over Zoom throughout the summer and fall and made flexible plans for performances during the 2020-21 school year.

The Valley Catholic drama department performed a virtual production in November. “For never having done anything like this before, I thought we all did a great job. The cast pivoted marvelously well to acting for webcams, and our tech crew got used to calling a show over Zoom chat,” said Paterson. Valley Catholic will be performing a livestreamed version of Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” in May. If state regulations permit, they will allow a limited in-person audience.

Meanwhile, Jesuit High School’s drama department never slowed their full production schedule. Only one week into rehearsals of “One Man Two Guvnors” in March of 2020, the cast and crew turned that show into a brief, fun video called “One Man Two Guvnors in Three Minutes” and the cast also created a virtual cabaret performance in partnership with the California-based group Projects With Jason. “Agility was the key,” said theater co-director Jeff Hall. Operating under the 10-person cohort rule, Jesuit produced a virtual, livestreamed performance of “Godspell” in the fall, using a core cast of 10 students onstage and projecting virtual cast members to fill out the ensemble. “The biggest win was that about 65 students got to perform or work behind-the-scenes on theater in the fall,” Hall said.

In February and March, Jesuit performed two short plays, “Puffs” and “Girls in the Boat,” both livestreamed and allowing up to 100 people in the theater. In late April, Jesuit theatre is piloting a new version of the Stephen Schwartz musical “Working,” updated with new music from additional composers and writers. “It is going to be an awesome time to explore the relationships of people to their jobs, as it’s been changed so much over the last year. It’s a unique opportunity for all of us, and I think the students are going to have a very memorable time with it,” said Hall.

Over the course of the last year, high schools across the Archdiocese of Portland have adapted their classrooms, gyms, and theaters to fit the state regulations and still allow students and families the opportunity to connect with their community. “While virtual productions will never replace performing for a live audience … our audience appreciates the opportunity to see their loved ones perform,” said More. As the year goes on, high school theaters will continue to perform live and virtually, exploring evolving online options.

Amanda Rocha attends St. Anthony Parish in Tigard and is a senior at Valley Catholic High School in Beaverton. She is a member of the Catholic Sentinel Youth Writers Corps.