All through the month leading up to their final realization that The Sound of Music, this year’s musical at Nauset Regional Middle School, would not be performed, the members of the school’s drama club kept rehearsing over FaceTime.
The spring musical at the middle school, which has been directed by Peter Earle for 30 years, is always a highlight of the end of the year. But this year, because of the Covid-19 pandemic, The Sound of Music was silenced.
In previous years, the shows have always been booked solid, the audiences full of family and friends from all over the Outer Cape who came to see the two performances at the school in Orleans. This year, they were scheduled for May 8 and 9.
Auditions for the show were held in early January, with the cast list going up and rehearsals starting one week later. The cast and crew had about 40 members in all, from sixth to eighth grade, and everyone played a vital role in the production. From the party guests to the protagonist, Maria, each club member worked hard to perfect the performance. The club met on Wednesdays and Thursdays for a total of three hours in the school auditorium. After rehearsals, the cast spent as much time as they could spare memorizing their lines and the complicated blocking.
The students themselves never received any official notice that the play would not be performed. (It was in a newsletter to parents.) But as the news spread that various events planned for late spring and summer were canceled and school was closed for the rest of the term, they gradually accepted the inevitable.
“I miss drama so much because it was so fun,” said seventh-grader Maggie Brookshire of Eastham. “It’s like a second family.” She was cast as Admiral von Schreiber in this year’s show.
Eighth-grader Jake Edwards of Yarmouth took the role of Captain von Trapp. “I am always so excited to see you guys after school,” he told me. “I think that drama club is a good way to forget about all the bad stuff in your mind, so that you can spend time with your friends and let out your energy.”
Peter Earle, the director, worked even harder than the students to make sure the cast and crew would be at their best on opening night.
“I thought we had a wonderful cast, and I was so looking forward to putting it on so the audience could enjoy it as much as we enjoyed rehearsing it,” Earle said. He made sure everyone kept studying their scripts and doing their best to keep the play fresh in their minds. He said he kept active the performance rights as well as the backing sets, in hopes that the show could still go on.
That night never came. But when school was first closed, on March 14, no one knew how long the shutdown would last.
Thanks largely to Haley Labdon, the Eastham eighth-grader cast as Maria, the club continued its twice-weekly meetings on FaceTime, rehearsing the show in bits and pieces with whichever cast members could make it that day. Everything from costumes to choreography was discussed. In spite of the difficulties, they worked this way for over a month, hoping that the show could still go on.
Singing was the biggest problem, as it is a large part of the show but hard to work on remotely. The delays and glitches caused by the technology made for a choppy and rough sound. So the cast stuck to rehearsing lines for most of their meetings.
Haley has been a leader of the drama club ever since she played the lead in the musical Annie in sixth grade. The next year she starred as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. When the schools closed she took it on herself to create a detailed FaceTime rehearsal plan, complete with times and who needed to be there on which days. When the meetings began, she helped everyone get organized and practice scenes that needed work.
“Well, honestly,” she said, “having it be my last middle school show and playing a role so dear to my heart made the cancellation hit very hard. The silver lining is that we were fortunate to tell this wonderful story, even if it was just to each other.”
The FaceTime rehearsals helped everyone through the loneliness of isolation.
“While everything was still up in the air,” said seventh-grader Perry Gill of Eastham, who was cast as Mother Abbess, “the ability to communicate with my favorite group of people gave me hope. I believe it was something we all really needed when we received the dreaded news. Once we moved onto virtual contact, it became much harder to rehearse — especially considering we couldn’t run any choreography — but our fabulously talented lead, Haley, helped pull the show together, and if we had returned to school the main reason we would have been able to perform the show would’ve been her determination.”
Even now, Earle hopes that The Sound of Music might be produced next year, so that at least some of this year’s cast could still perform it.
Almost every member of the drama club had something positive and loving to say about the experience. The group bonded like a family, and continues to do so, even if their original goal is no longer there.
Niev Witnauer, a seventh-grader at Nauset Middle School, was cast as Gretl in The Sound of Music.