As many of you may know, 2020 marks the first year that Casady streamed its Fall play, The Diary of Anne Frank, instead of performing it live in front of an audience. It was performed in a Zoom call, a term we seem to can’t get enough of during this year due to the pandemic. Covid-19 has impacted nearly all aspects of our lives; we have to wear masks, practice social distancing, and stop going to movie theaters. Despite these obstacles, Casady’s theatre production has managed to provide the community with a play that connects to what we are experiencing now.
The Diary of Anne Frank takes place in the Netherlands in 1942 and is about a young girl with her Jewish family who are forced to go into hiding because the girl’s older sister has been recruited to work in a Nazi work camp. The play sheds light on the Franks’ everyday lives during that dark period in hiding and isolation from the world.
Mr. Dema has given us some insight into what led to Casady’s first play to be streamed online.
What made you choose The Diary of Anne Frank for this year’s fall Upper Division play?
Dema: It was during quarantine in March and April. I was going through plays, trying to figure out what we would do this season, and I just felt so disconnected from the rest of the world and worried about what would happen. That made me think about The Diary of Anne Frank and how they had to go into hiding – although it was a very different situation. They had to hide for their lives; we didn’t even know what we were hiding from at the time. So I read the play and was weeping throughout, laughing throughout, and thinking that this was the perfect play. I think we can all understand and relate to what’s going on through their minds to a certain extent.
Were there any attempts to help the cast members build a better connection to the story?
Dema: I knew as soon as I decided on this show that I needed to contact the Jewish people I know to get their advice and thoughts. I’m so thankful I did since I learned a lot through it. So I contacted my Jewish theatre friends who got me in contact with Jewish leaders in our community, including Roberta Clark of the Jewish Federation of Greater Oklahoma City and author Michael Korenblit, whose parents had survived the Holocaust. Both of them came to speak to our cast. They changed the way I look at the Holocaust and Jewish culture. It’s so important because we aren’t exposed to Jewish culture and experiences much in Oklahoma City, unfortunately.
What were some of the protocols that were in place to prevent the possible spread of Covid-19?
Dema: We wore masks throughout rehearsals. We ate food distanced and outdoors; thankfully, parents provided meals early so Mrs. McQuade and I could split up meals safely for each student. We had a digital sign-in so we didn’t have to gather in the same area as we were signing in. We had several plans for the play about whether we would do it in-person, masked, unmasked, over Zoom, or distanced with green screens. I’m thankful we had all these plans thought out, since there were times when some of our cast had to quarantine- there was even one time when the entire cast had to quarantine at some point- and we had that big ice storm. I’m thankful we could get the play finished on time because I know several areas or programs that couldn’t do their shows or had to postpone them.
When did you decide that this play would have to be on Zoom and then streamed online?
Dema: It was sometime during the ice storm when I had lost power and had to stay in a friend’s house to direct rehearsals on Zoom. During those rehearsals, I thought: You know what, the story’s still clear. It wasn’t ideal but it can work, and that was enough of a reason to go for it. Mrs. McQuade and I had to make the difficult decision to take down the set and props, which was about 60-70% completed. It was really, really tragic on opening night to see no set on the stage. But, that is our reality now.
Dema: In fact, we had a student quarantined on the week of recording, so if we had done it in person, we would have had to cancel the show. On Zoom, we couldn’t even tell that the person was in quarantine. Well, I couldn’t tell when I was editing the footage though the person had to record in their home.
What were some difficulties you faced while producing and editing the show?
Dema: From working with green screens, handing off props, computer issues, different cameras, to running out of batteries- everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong, just like 2020. But you know what, just like 2020, we survived and learned a lot from it.
The toughest thing about the editing was not editing out any mistakes the students made, but rather having to watch the real footage from the Holocaust. For example, Jewish people being crammed into trains from Nazis who were blindly following their leader who was leading their country into eventual downfall by murdering millions of people. That was the hardest part: watching real Nazi footage.
How long did the show take to produce and then to edit?
Dema: We auditioned in August and started rehearsals in early September. We had some cast changes about two week before recording the show. We recorded over three days, recording scenes separately. When we weren’t recording, I edited the scenes that I had, and after that I edited everything else in pretty much one long, busy, exhausting day.
Would you ever produce a show over Zoom again even when Covid-19 is contained?
Dema: Yes, definitely. It’s not ideal, but I think there are so many new possibilities to explore. Theatre, one of our oldest art forms, is ever-changing because it has to in order to survive. It has survived television, film, and radio because it is always changing and can incorporate new mediums. Zoom theatre will never replace live theatre, but there is a lot that can be learned from it.
Why did you still produce this play even when it could potentially be risky to do so during the pandemic?
Dema: We are trying to find out how much normal life we can have versus being cautious during a pandemic. Theatre is about taking risks, but smartly. Mrs. McQuade and I know how important theatre and storytelling is to a community. So even if it cannot be in person, we still wanted to let students tell an important story.
As Mr. Dema said, theatre is forever changing. Like theatre, we as humans are also constantly changing due to new, and even scary, situations. Covid-19 might take away our ability to hang out with friends, to travel, or to live a “normal” life, but it will never take away our ability to adapt and grow, one streamed performance at a time.