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Stratford High prepares for upcoming spring play, COVID style

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For first year theater teachers at Stratford High school Maddie Latham and Chrystie Sticht, there have been hints of optimism even amidst COVID-19 as they began developing dynamics within the performing arts departments. With the start of the school year looking similarly grim as last spring, both teachers feared what the past several months were going to look like for the theater students they taught. Stratford theatre was anxious to be brought back on stage, and with the combined effort and collaboration of students and staff, the program was able to continue performing. {/span}

As a Stratford High school alumni, Sticht was part of the performing arts throughout her own high school years. When funding was taken away, theater classes began transitioning into an after school club, members of the theater were left to figure out a way to keep the show going.

“We were trying to hold onto something that we love so very much and that really solidified that passion in me for Stratford theater and really made it stronger,” Sticht said.

When Sticht imagines what it’s like to be a theater student in a year of an unrelenting pandemic, she relates it to this experience, which encompasses much of the same struggles; students confronted with barriers that keep them from doing what they love.

“I really hope that these kids right now, going through what they are going through, come out of it the same way I came out of it knowing that we are a giant theater family and that you always have a place here even 20-plus years later,” Sticht said.

Because of the efforts made to successfully find safe ways to continue performing in theater this school year, which both teachers credit to their supportive administrative staff, the Stratford theater has been able to put on several shows already.

“We didn’t have problems with getting the kids involved because they had been missing theater and a lot of them need theater because it’s their escape, it’s the place where they can express themselves. So when we found safe ways to do a show, we had a crazy amount of kids who showed interest for on stage and in tech,” Latham said.

So far there has been a haunted house exhibit, two plays that were written by a local author and a Christmas show. The theater was able to accompany 102 members in the audience to join the live show with different formats of live streaming available as well. The crowd, which Latham says is only about a fifth of the capacity compared to a normal year, was substantial for some of the more comedic shows that needed the laughter that a live audience provides.

The two say that there are about 60 students who are an active part of the theater, which is part of the reason why they decided to make two separate casts for their upcoming spring play, allowing more students to get involved.

“It is so important for these kids to have a place to go,” Sticht said. “They have to have a place where they can just be crazy teenagers and put the world behind them for a second because we don’t want what’s happening to teenagers all across the nation to happen to these guys because they mean so much to us.”

The spring play they are currently preparing for is ‘The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,’ a Tony award-winning musical.

The plot boils down to a compilation of six misfit kids from all different walks of life who all find themselves coming together for a spelling bee. It’s an interactive play and members of the theater have already found ways for audience members to safely join the stage for portions of the show. While the show doesn’t involve intricate costumes or props, what is most notable, Sticht says, is the deep characterization of each role and the songs performed throughout it.

“When they started singing the music they realized how hard the harmonies are. What’s amazing is they will come in to practice and our dressing rooms are filled with the sound of singing, it is truly one of the hardest shows to do musically,” Sticht said.

Despite its comedic nature, Latham noted that there are deeper truths that come to surface throughout the play.

“You think it’s a cute comedy and then there are these moments in the play where you’re crying,” Latham said.

Both teachers emphasized that the overall message of the play is pertinent at this point in time. The play hits on subjects of acceptance, diversity and understanding.

“It’s about learning to live with the idea that it is okay to lose. It’s okay not to win. And to be happy for them,” Sticht said.

Tickets are $10 each and will be available for purchase two months before the show on EventBrite, as seats are limited. The dates of the show are May 28-29 and June 4-5. There will be a total of eight shows.