Pineywoods Community Academy theater students have continued to develop their theatrical skills throughout the pandemic through innovative ideas such as hosting a play through Zoom.

“Help Desk” is a comedic play written by Don Zolidis in such a way that it could be performed via Zoom. Theater director Laramie Cureton said it was intimidating at first, but when the school year started, there were a lot of uncertainties.

“I talked to my students about it, and they were enthusiastic and they were on board because at the end of the day, we just want to do theater, however we can do it,” Cureton said.

Senior Kayla Dorris played the characters Mara and Monique, as well as an angel. She said the experience of a Zoom play was new and fun, but it lacked the thrill of a stage performance.

She said the pandemic made it a little more difficult to gather for practices and performances, which made a Zoom call performance more reasonable.

“The Zoom call practices were good when some of us could not meet in person, but definitely affected the amount of things we could work on and workshop,” Kayla said. “I hope we can at least perform a live stage performance for One Act Play and find a way to fundraise.”

Junior Ethan Gage said the pros of the pandemic affecting the theater program are probably the exploration of allowing people across the world to see their performance instead of just those in their area.

“The cons are that we weren’t allowed to be together through the performance and only saw each other through computer screens, making it harder to feel genuine in our reactions,” he said.

He said he hopes they are allowed to perform in their competition while also be on stage and maintain a healthy environment.

“They were excited to do something different and innovative and safe,” Cureton said. “Because we were socially distant — in rehearsals and in performance, I had them all spread out in different classrooms altogether — they didn’t have to perform wearing masks.”

Even if the students had been quarantined or learning from home during the performance, the show could have gone on. Cureton said this provided them an opportunity to be as flexible as possible and be willing to learn.

Junior Logan Holcomb said there can be more subtlety to a performance compared to stage performance, and more people can watch a digital performance. However, there can be more room for loss of connection and issues with technology.

Cureton’s first instinct was to do a Zoom call and invite the audience to it, but then she would have to worry about asking the audience to mute. Then the technology department at PCA helped her find a software called OBS that allowed her to stream the Zoom call to YouTube, which allowed her to have pre-show music, transitions, a curtain speech and more.

“It was a lot to learn really fast,” Cureton said. “It was different for the students because it was like a crash course acting for the camera because there are subtleties that we had to focus on in a Zoom call with their face that close to the camera that you don’t have to focus on in a live theater performance because the audience is getting such an intimate experience almost like they do in movies and things like that.”

Next year, they are planning on doing One Act Play live and in-person, but she will be selecting a play that keeps the students as distant as possible, and they will be taking precautions such as wearing masks or face shields.

Cureton said she also is receiving constant updates from the state director of UIL with the precautions that will be in effect for the competitions and said UIL is close to the students’ hearts, so they will do what is necessary to be able to be involved this year.

“I’m just really proud of my kids for tackling this challenge and for using their talents in a digital way,” Cureton said. “We received a lot of positive and encouraging feedback from the community and the PCA community.”

Grace Juarez’s email address is