BHS thespians are on first with annual fall play

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BLOOMFIELD, NJ — Bloomfield High School’s auditorium will be turned into a radio station this week when 15 students take the stage for the annual fall play, a radio-play adaptation of the 1948 horror-comedy film “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.” The script incorporates other Abbott and Costello sketches as well. The format allows the drama students and director Brandon Doemling to put on a production in the age of COVID-19.

“We’re trying to get as many performance opportunities in as we can,” Doemling said in a phone interview with The Independent Press on Nov. 13. “There are barriers on the stage, and when it’s time for them to perform they step forward. They have their own mics, so they’re not sharing.”

The set, designed by Ralph Turano, looks like a radio booth, so cast members can social-distance; they’re not moving around or doing traditional theater blocking. Cast members are also doing foley art, making sound effects for footsteps, rain and the like.

“If you close your eyes, you should still be able to follow the story,” Doemling said. “The sounds are filled in by the foley art. In real radio they would be standing around microphones.”

In keeping with the radio authenticity, the show will also have commercials. Instead of printing programs, the program is in the play itself — local businesses bought ads that will be read throughout, as if they are radio commercials.

For the cast members who have been in BHS’ theater productions before, the 2020 show is a departure. It wouldn’t have happened this way without the pandemic, but the students are becoming familiar with new material and techniques that they otherwise wouldn’t have.

“It’s been really interesting,” Emma Morse, a senior at BHS playing the character of McDougal in the show, said in a phone interview with The Independent Press on Nov. 13. “This is different, but we’ve been experiencing a lot that we wouldn’t have otherwise.”

Ayiana Caberte, a senior who is in the show’s sketches, said the cast is doing more voice acting than in years past.

“We’re in these stalls, so it’s confined. Instead of acting motions out, we’re saying it,” she said in a phone interview on Nov. 13. “But even in sound booths, voice actors are doing things with their bodies, like moving their hands.”

Radio plays became popular in the 1920s when the radio was first developed, and their popularity began to decline in the 1950s with the advent of television. Morse, Caberte and the rest of the high school–aged cast weren’t familiar with them before rehearsals started this fall. That’s part of the fun, according to Doemling.

“This is something that we’ve never done before,” he said. “For the kids who have been here for a while, it’s fun.”

Performances will be on Nov. 19, 20 and 21 at 7 p.m. at BHS. Tickets can be purchased online at House staff will take temperatures of audience members as they enter the building and escort each party to their seats to ensure social distancing. Parties will be limited to groups of eight and all are required to wear masks.

Planning for the winter musical usually starts around this time of year, and Doemling said he and the staff are considering “Into the Woods,” as long as they’re able to hold rehearsals. It would be a concert version of the musical rather than a full production, with a set that allows social distancing. For now, the BHS drama department is getting ready for this week’s opening night.

“They get to be out of their houses,” Doemling said about the cast. “They get to come to school, and a lot of them didn’t think they would get to do that again.”

Photos Courtesy of Brandon Doemling and Maria Rivas