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One Year Later: How The Pandemic Changed High School Theater

Providence High School senior Daniel Binder
Courtesy Daniel Binder
Providence High School senior Daniel Binder

All this week, we've been marking one year since the coronavirus pandemic upended many of our lives. It was just a year ago that many high school theater kids were rehearsing for their big spring shows, just to have them abruptly canceled. That was followed by a year of virtual learning that meant big adjustments for performing arts classes.

WFAE invited Providence High School senior Daniel Binder to join us to reflect back on the past year without live theater. He spoke with WFAE's Nick de la Canal.

Nick de la Canal: So I understand it was a year ago today — March 13 — that the spring show at Providence High was supposed to open. What was the show and who were you playing?

Daniel Binder: So the show was "Mary Poppins." I was an ensemble member, and I also played a few supporting characters, and we were supposed to open on March 13, 2020, which we were not able to.

De la Canal: Well, can you tell us how you found out that the show was getting canceled — like where were you and what happened?

Binder: So on March 12, we were having our final dress rehearsal, and we were just about to go and do the finale and then the bows, and somebody looked at Twitter or Facebook or whatever where it was announced that all students in CMS were not allowed to perform or practice or do anything on March 13. So, right before our final number, in our final dress rehearsal, we found out that we were not going to be able to do the show — at least then.

And then we thought it was going to be two weeks. So it was really hard to do the final number not knowing if we were ever going to be able to do it again, and we [weren't] able to do it again.

De la Canal: Wow. Yeah. What did you and your castmates think when we found out it wasn't going to happen?

Binder: It was heartbreaking. We had been working on the show since the beginning of December the year before. So, four months of working every single day, to have it forcefully taken away from us literally the day of — the night before we were supposed to open ... it was heartbreaking.

De la Canal: So at that time you were a junior. Now you're a senior, and I understand that you've still been active in the school's theater program and the shows they've put on, but things have been different, haven't they?

Binder: Yeah. So we were still able to do shows this year, but our fall play, which was "A Christmas Carol," was [done] entirely virtually. We did not set foot inside of the school building. And our spring play, Monty Python's "Spamalot," we are having in person. We are going to be livestreaming, and we've been able to rehearse in person, which has been the most amazing thing. As my final show here, and after the whole past year, to be able to actually do a musical, it's — it's amazing.

De la Canal: So I used to be a theater kid when I was in high school — a pretty hardcore theater kid — and for me, it was like a way for me to kind of step away from the rest of the world and just kind of hang out with a group of kids outside of class. You know, like we'd just be hanging out or goofing off in the wings during rehearsal, or we'd go out and get a bite to eat after a show. And it was really like a community. Do you think that any of that was lost during this past year?

Binder: If anything, that was amplified. Like you said, this is really a — every cast that I've been in has been a family. Some shows more than others, but it's really a place that I know, personally, I can call home. It's a safe space for me, and this cast was already so, so strong.

We tried to do as much as we could. Obviously we were in quarantine and stuff, but I think it almost made us — it made us definitely more resilient. We're back and we're better than ever. But it was just hard to get your family ripped away from you. But yeah, I think it made us stronger, if anything.

De la Canal: So, to come full circle, when your play got canceled at the last minute a year ago, what did you think the rest of your high school experience would be like — and how do you think it all worked out?

Binder: Like I said before, we didn't think it was going to be a year — a year and a half. I didn't think I was not going to set foot into the school as a student again until literally this past week was my first school day. And it was hard to not imagine being in the auditorium every single day of my life and rehearsing every day and putting on these spectacular productions. I never even imagined not doing that my senior year, and I was able to do it. But it was — it was different.

De la Canal: So, you are a senior. You're going to be graduating this spring. What's next? What are your plans for college?

Binder: So, I'm still waiting to hear back from a lot of schools. I'm planning on going up north somewhere to either do — so probably do business, hopefully the business end of theater and the arts. The arts are so powerful, and I want to exemplify that in my future, wherever I go.

De la Canal: OK. That's Providence High School senior Daniel Binder. He will be in the school's upcoming spring show this year, "Spamalot." They're going to be performing in the school's auditorium. It's yet to be seen if they'll have an in-person audience. And that show opens next month — you've got your fingers crossed. Daniel, thank you for joining us, and I hope you break a leg.

Binder: Thank you so much.

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Nick de la Canal is an on air host and reporter covering breaking news, arts and culture, and general assignment stories. His work frequently appears on air and online. Periodically, he tweets: @nickdelacanal