By Patrick White
Special to InPlay Capital Region
Where were you when the world came to a halt and we all headed indoors?
Imagine you’re in high school. You’re the lead in the school’s musical, “High School Musical,” and you’re told the show isn’t happening because of the coronavirus outbreak. Months of auditions, rehearsals, breakthroughs and break-ups, and you’ll never get to sing your song in the spotlight in front of your family, friends, cast mates and schoolmates. The culmination of your high school years … not going to happen.
That’s what happened with two Scotia Glenville students -- Sophia Benny and Elaina Murdock -- I chatted with recently by email. I was contacted by their director, Michael Camelo, a former president of the Schenectady Light Opera Company, who had his own mainstage show (the Capital Region premiere of “Bright Star”) canceled. He wanted me to know about two students who, like many Capital Region theater artists who had their shows canceled, were looking for something to do to get beyond their hurt, and they were reaching out to others to keep theater alive during this perilous time.
They created the Capital Drama Club, and as I learned from their website, the club launched on YouTube last Friday and intends to be “an internet talk show started by, made by, and featuring high schoolers who have a passion for theatre and want to make sure it does not disappear during this scary time. Our goal is to connect with students from other Capital District school drama clubs to share stories from rehearsals of canceled shows, relive onstage mishaps, play games, and overall continue promoting the thing we all love more than anything, theatre.”
I asked Sophia and Elaina what theater meant to them, how they were taking the news of their cancellation, and what they were looking forward to.
Sophia Benny: “I’m a senior now, and I’ve been in the drama club at Scotia Glenville High
Olivia Pierotti and Sophia Benny perform in ‘Mamma Mia!’ at Scotia Glenville High School last year. Photo by Molly Rose Photography
School since my freshman year. At first, I just enjoyed singing and dancing, but I eventually found my passion in performing. Going to rehearsal made each day brighter and happier despite what stress I had at school. In my junior year I received my first lead role as Tanya in ‘Mamma Mia!’ I was quite nervous to play a character so out of my comfort zone, being a shy high school girl. That rehearsal and show process really brought me out of my shell. I realized that it made me more outgoing in my everyday life and raised my confidence within myself. Theater shaped my personality for the better and encouraged me to try new things and take risks in life. Theater lifts me up even when I’ve had the worst day by bringing me together to do what I love with the family I have found. Freshman year, I never would have guessed that as a senior l would be the president of the drama club.
“Once I found out that my senior show would not be happening, I was devastated. This was everything I had been working towards in the past few months, and I put countless hours of effort and energy into, and it was gone. I’ve been looking forward to tech week, costumes, makeup and the yearly rituals that come with each show. With my cast mates and I all upset, I wasn’t sure what to do. After meeting with the officers of the club and our director, Michael, we decided we should keep theater alive in this time of uncertainty with an online project. Theater needs to be kept alive right now for people like me whose source of joy and their creative outlet has been lost.
“For this summer, I plan to audition for ‘Nice Work If You Can Get It’ at Not So Common Players in Clifton Park, where I have performed before. I also plan to audition for ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie’ through the Proctors School of the Arts. However, auditions are being postponed for now. I am optimistic and still hope to participate in these summer productions despite the conditions of right now. In the fall I will be attending college; however, I have yet to make a commitment. I intend to continue theater wherever I go to do the one thing that gave me my confidence and joy each day.”
Elaina Murdock: “I’m a junior at SGHS and the drama club social media manager, and I
Elaina Murdock performs in ‘Mamma Mia!’ Photo by Molly Rose Photography
also designed our new website. I have been singing for as long as I can remember. At 4 years old, I would put on my red Annie dress, get up on a table and sing ‘Tomorrow’ for my parents to record and post on YouTube (I’m sure the videos are still out there somewhere!). I had been going to see shows at the theater for my whole life, but it wasn’t until I was 11 that I was in my first show, ‘The Little Mermaid,’ at SG Middle School. I was cast as Flounder, and since the first rehearsal of that show I knew theater was going to be one of the most important parts of my life forever. Theater has provided me a place to do my favorite things, singing, acting and dancing. It has given me so many families through the casts I have been a part of. My best memories and best friends all come from theater and the bond that putting something together for months creates.
“The cancellation of ‘High School Musical’ was very difficult for me. I was playing Gabriella, a role that I had been dreaming of playing since I first watched the movie about 12 years ago. I had put in a lot of hard work and pushed myself further than I thought I could in order to give a great performance, as did everyone else in the cast. I remember the day we found out it was canceled -- many of us are in the same choir class, and we took that entire class period to cry, hug each other and grasp the fact that we would not be able to see the final outcome after all of our work. My hope is that we get to perform ‘High School Musical’ in some way, whether it be a concert version, live stream, video, anything. And I hope that anyone, in the theater community or not, can watch Capital Drama Club and have an understanding of how not having theater would mean not having a life for so many people.”
Sophia and Elaina are very impressive young women, and I feel the loss of what the Capital Region missed with the cancellation of their show. I’m going to check out Capital Drama Club and share my own high school stories using #capitaldramaclub. and I hope you will, too.
Keep theater alive.
The cast of 2019’s ‘Mamma Mia!’ at Scotia Glenville High School. Photo courtesy of the school