Orange students kick out stage fright in the face of COVID-19

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ORANGE, NJ — Despite the pandemic, student thespians in Orange have decided that the show must go on and are currently working on a production of “Strange Happenings at the School Library,” with great hopes of lifting spirits during these troubled times.

“The play is about a librarian who decides to stay in the library and watch over the books during the pandemic,” Donna Sinisgalli, supervisor of visual and performing arts, said on Dec. 11. “As she opens the books, she notices that the characters are spilling out, realizing that they’re in a pandemic. For example, Rapunzel, with her long hair, teaches everyone how to take care of their hair and their makeup. She has a big following on social media, similar to a Kardashian.

“There are other characters, such as Alice in Wonderland, and other stories,” Sinisgalli continued. “Everyone is in this dilemma where they have to be 6 feet apart, they have to social distance, and all of these different things. The librarian keeps trying to get them back in their books. There are sad parts, where a student does come into the library to take out books because the library is closed, and he talks about how lonely he is because of being home due to the lockdown. There are parts about how students feel. Overall, I think this was cleverly written.”

The school’s partner, Luna Stage, a playhouse located in West Orange, has really outdone itself.

“Every year, we struggle to find a play that would meet our student population and demographic,” Sinisgalli said. “Luna Stage worked with us with playwriting, workshops and different things in the past. There was a time where they offered to write a play for us and we wanted a famous play, but as we began to struggle more and more, we reconsidered. This was giving back to Luna Stage for everything they’ve done for us.”

Staff and kids of the production went the extra mile to make this work.

“My staff, all of the advisers, got the costumes and the props, and individually went to each of the students’ homes; they each took four students, and dropped off the props and costumes,” Sinisgalli said. “The kids put up a green screen behind them, the art director did computer backgrounds, the kids had their computer background due to the green screen, they recorded each student separately, and then the production manager pieced it all together through iMovie. So, I thought it was unique. We’re trying to make lemonade out of lemons and trying to do the best we can out of these circumstances.”

Director Michael Seidel spoke to the ease of directing the play.

“Directing wasn’t hard at all,” Seidel said on Dec. 11. “We have a great bunch of kids who are really passionate about doing theater, so they just made it easier for us. We had 17 students in total who were involved, and it was a range of students from eighth to 12th grade. We were looking for something COVID related. We put our heads together, collaborated with Luna Stage and decided that, if they can write a play, we can get them the content. We conducted a survey tailored for middle and high school students about the pandemic, took that information about what they would love to see on stage, gave it to Luna Stage, they put together a script for us, and we made it happen for them.

“I feel honored. This is the first time I’ve ever done a virtual production,” Seidel continued. “We’ve had a really new experience trying to figure out how to do theater in an innovative way. We’ve really made something out of nothing. I couldn’t be happier with the work that everyone’s doing, especially the kids.”

“I played three characters: Ares, Tweedledee and a student,” Orange student Guadalupe Aguilar-Jimenez said on Dec. 12. “In preparation, I’ve watched movies or read books that had my characters in them. I feel honored and happy to participate in this production. It gave me a new challenge to work through.

“My role was Gretel for ‘The Ultimate Recipe Challenge,’ which was pretty epic,” Orange student Samantha Gonzalez said on Dec. 12. “The thing I did was write down the script by hand, because it is an easier way to learn the lines.”

“I played the roles of Happy and Poseidon,” Orange student Zain Hayden said on Dec. 12. “Even though we aren’t in person, which is upsetting, it feels amazing to be with the cast again.”

Photos Courtesy of Orange School District drama team and students