Each year, the talented MC Advanced Drama and Advanced Technical Theatre students combine forces to create a spirited play meant to bring holiday cheer and produce a heartwarming memory. Unfortunately, MC was deprived of this seasonal in-person performance in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, the devoted individuals involved in the annual event refused to begin the holiday season without a festive production. Despite a lack of physical resources or in-person communication, the drama and tech students managed to create a heartfelt, comedic production to kickstart the holiday season.
The virtual environment brought on by the pandemic encouraged the drama students to create a radio play in order to spread cheer, but not germs.
“Winter News Network was a news station and it was all about winter time, the holiday season, and we made it into a podcast, so that way it would be fun to listen to but also a little bit easier to put together than like a full video since we’re on zoom,” senior and member of the Winter News Network cast Marit Buffington said.
The festive radio play relayed five reports covered by the Winter News Network (WNN). Written and produced by the students in less than one week, the podcast takes the place of the traditional Winter Assembly sketch. The show started off introducing its news anchors Holly and Hugh then passed the mic over to Jim the weatherman to report on the dangerous snowstorm occurring on the east coast. For the remainder of the report, the WNN aired segments covering winter-time sporting events such as the Canadian Celebrity Snowball Fight Championships; as well as comedic twists on traditional Hallmark-style entertainment with commercials for popular businesses such as the seasonal candle store Body and Bathworks and for up-and-coming hits such as the newly released Chemistry for Christmas movie.
This elaborate show was —according to Buffington —all a product of “student-writing, student acting, [and] student editing,” which took to the virtual theatre within days of the classmates embarking on the project. The actors worked for just four short days to complete this podcast as the technical team collaborated to assemble the final product.
“For me putting it together was all done on a Zoom call which took six to seven hours,” sophomore and lead technician Josh Chehov said.
The members involved in this entertaining production worked hard to have a fun time and to attempt to counteract the heartbreaking events that took place earlier in the year.
“So I guess it was the week or maybe two weeks before winter break and I remember Stacy [Michelle Walker, MC’s Drama teacher,] telling us that ASB wanted us to do […] something special for the holidays […] because this year in particular is just anything but normal, so Stacy asked us […] if we wanted to you know put this project together and just to […] bring some normalcy into the year 2020,” Kaylin Poblete, junior and WNN cast member, said.
Once they were presented with the idea, the drama class was off and running, planning and rehearsing to release the podcast before the winter break started on Dec. 19.
“We only had a week to prepare it so as soon as we found out, we had one Google Doc and we all told Stacy our ideas and she typed it out, and then we voted on which ones we wanted to keep. Then we split into groups and we wrote our segments,” Buffington said.
After creating each of the news segments and editing the script, the advanced drama class was ready to start casting. Traditionally, auditions are held to put a face to each of the characters; however, extenuating circumstances called for a unique process. In addition to student-editing, the drama classmates also practiced student-casting.
“Once we kind of made final edits to the script, […] Stacy gave us the opportunity and kind of the choice to choose who we felt were best for each role and so a google form was sent out to everyone […] and we nominated people for roles and then after that we got our roles and […] we had like, I would say, four to five days to kind of get familiar with the script,” Poblete said.
After assigning roles, the actors began producing. Because Covid-19 regulations prohibited the classmates from collaborating face-to-face, the drama students had to tape the entire play virtually. Glitchy computer screens and wifi interruptions however were sure to make recording the show all in one take difficult, so instead, the students decided to individually tape their lines and forward them to the tech team to piece together.
The advanced technical theatre class then strung the voice recordings together, added in comedic sound effects, such as the sound of snowballs being launched as well as candles shattering, to successfully produce a radio play. Although complications arose, as they do in every good production, the show still managed to flourish.
“There were some line issues, finding the lines and rerecording them, some of them we just had to use different sounds, but I think it turned out pretty well, we had a great time, a lot of funny parts with the sounds,” Chehov said.
In addition to technical difficulties, the WNN members unfortunately struggled in the performance as well.
“The one thing I do wish though is that […] if we had more time to rehearse that would have been great just to, you know, get more of a feel of how our scene partners would’ve […] delivered their lines, so that would’ve been more helpful. But overall it was really fun,” Poblete said.
Although issues arose, the Winter News Network podcast was still a huge success as the creators took pride in their work and a large audience was amazed by the students’ talent.
“It was actually super successful, we really had a good time, and they talked about doing something like that every year, where we write our own thing and perform it,” Buffington said.
“Stacy actually told us the day we came back from winter break that she shared the link with people in other drama departments within our district and she said that overall it was like over one hundred people [who listened to the podcast], and we were just all really happy that that many people got a chance to listen to it,” Poblete said.
Although it may have been an unconventional performance, the Winter News Network managed to end this chaotic year on a positive note. MC’s advanced drama and technical theatre class is thankful for every individual who took the time to help produce the WNN as well as every audience member who listened to the radio play. To listen to the seasonal podcast as well as stay updated on the drama and tech students’ latest endeavors, go check out Theatre at the Mount at theatreatthemount.org!