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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Brighton High theatre students rehearse with masks, proceed with season performances

Oct 21, 2020 11:02AM ● By Julie Slama

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

As with many people these days, Brighton High theatre students are wearing masks—not the drama ones representing tragedy and comedy—but ones as part of the safety guidelines that are in place in schools. 

“We have some policies in place that are to keep everyone safe,” said new theatre teacher Tiffany Garner about the COVID-19 guidelines. “We sanitize a lot, we keep our distance, we wear masks and rehearse in them.”

Garner said that the students also go through a symptom check, have their temperatures taken before every rehearsal, and practice in small groups with the same students so they can contact trace. Air is circulated in the classroom and rehearsal space every 30 minutes.

“We want to limit the risk of any spread so hopefully, these kids can put on some amazing productions,” she said.

Garner not only has safety precautions to think about, but also coordination of spaces for rehearsals and production performances as the high school currently is being rebuilt on the same campus. 

Before she was hired, the theatre department packed up its props and costumes. The school’s old auditorium was torn down during winter break 2019. 

“It’s definitely a little crazy,” she said. “I still don’t know what we have, inventory-wise.”

While the new auditorium and black box will be welcome, they were not completed when school began. So, students are using the old school’s atrium as their classroom and rehearsal space. 

“We’re super excited about the new spaces. Our auditorium will be wonderful and equipped with a fly reel, and we’ll have a scene shop for our stage tech kids,” she said.

The auditorium, which sits on the northwest corner of the campus, also will feature improved acoustics and lighting and sound. There also will be updated dressing rooms adjacent to the theatre and storage for props.

At the start of school, Brighton students were studying the script of “Hamlet,” which they plan to perform at 7 p.m., Nov. 19-21 and again at 2 p.m., on Nov. 21. They also are considering an entry in the 44th annual high school Shakespeare Festival, which will be virtual.

“I start off my Theatre 3 class with Shakespeare, and as ‘Hamlet’ is a small cast, we can present it in a limited setting in the black box theatre,” she said.

During the final dress rehearsal and performance, students may be unmasked, but the audience will remain with their face coverings on. Audience members are limited to 25% of the capacity of the auditorium, spaced 6 feet apart, with only households seated together.

The Bengals’ musical, which typically is held in the fall, will be “Beauty and the Beast,” and has been moved to 7 p.m., March 5-6 and 8, as well as 2 p.m., March 6. It will be the first musical in the new 1,100-seat auditorium. 

“We have strong boys this year so it will be great to highlight the boys’ roles,” Garner said. “We moved it so we have enough time to prepare for it, plus holding it in November puts a lot on the plate of our student-musicians; many of those in the orchestra pit are ones who are top in our music department, playing for the marching band.”

She said the extra time also allows for them to follow COVID-19 safety precautions that continue to evolve.

“Right now, we plan to have two separate ensembles of servants and townspeople so we will limit the students rehearsing, their exposure and rehearsal times. We’ll plan the best we can, but I’m sure some guidelines will continue to change. We learn problem-solving as part of theatre, so we’re used to improvising solutions,” Garner said.

If safety guidelines allow, she would like to hold a princess tea party breakfast in association with the musical.

In the spring, Theatre 4 students also plan to compete in region and state—something that didn’t happen as planned during last spring’s soft closure of schools in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Garner also is looking into including student-directed one-act shows, something she plans to decide this winter.

Garner taught the last two years at a charter middle and high school in Gilbert, Arizona. She graduated in theatre art studies from Brigham Young University before continuing her studies in English and educational theatre at New York University where she earned her master’s degree.

This year, she will teach students in theatre 1 through theatre 4, musical theatre, stage tech 1 and 2, and film studies.

“There are incredibly talented students here that I saw in my first week,” Garner said. “They’re really positive and are enjoying returning to school and wanting to put on shows.”