As concerns surrounding the novel coronavirus continue to grow, schools across the country are taking precautionary measures. Some are closing down for weeks, while others are cancelling large events, in compliance with the increasing number of bans on large gatherings. Among the cancelled or postponed events are theater and music productions — some of which were forced to shut down days before opening night.
Broadway veteran Laura Benanti knows how much hard work goes into any theatrical production, which is why she decided to offer a platform for performing students to share their talents. “Dark times for all,” she tweeted on Friday, March 13. “Trying to find some bright spots. If you were meant to perform in your High School musical and it was cancelled please post yourself singing and tag me. I want to be your audience!! Sending all my love and black market toilet paper.” The musical theater star later encouraged theater students to use the hashtag #SunshineSongs alongside their videos, and has been retweeting dozens of clips to her 145,000 followers ever since. Plenty of other Broadway stars, including Lin-Manuel Miranda, have also gotten in on the fun.
16-year-old Campbell is one of the many students who responded to Benanti’s initial tweet. The Rochester High School junior was gearing up to play Belle in her school’s production of Beauty and the Beast, when she learned that the show would no longer be taking place as planned. “I was absolutely heartbroken,” Campbell told Teen Vogue. “No matter what part, everyone worked so hard for this show and deserved an audience. It’s devastating to work so hard and not be able to show others what we have created.”
That feeling of heartbreak is one that Sarah, an 11th grader at Tonawanda High School knows all too well. After rehearsing for weeks as Mimi Marquez in Rent: School Edition, Sarah and her castmates learned that their show had been suspended. “Everyone was so hurt and disappointed. We all came together and mushed into a big pile and just held each other and cried,” Sarah recalled, adding: “We miss the four-hour rehearsals where we laughed together and sang our hearts out. But I know that our friendships are strong enough to keep each other hopeful.”
Brendon, a freshman at McQueen High School, had a similar experience when he learned that his school’s run of Into the Woods would be cut short. “After spending countless amounts of hours together, it was a hard hit,” the 15-year-old, who had been cast as Jack, said. “Everyone was crying, and I just felt really defeated.” Likewise, Annajean, president of Haverford High School’s drama club, told Teen Vogue that the cancellation of her final high school show was devastating. The senior was playing Roz Keith in 9 to 5, and while their production is currently cancelled, she hopes to get an audience at some point — even if it’s just one performance during a school day.
But Annajean explained that, despite her personal feelings about the show, she’s trying to keep her eye on the bigger picture. “I am grateful for the time I got to spend with my cast and crew before we were shut down, for the growth I got from the rehearsal process, and for being healthy” she said. “On a broader scale, everyone needs to pay more attention; look up actual statistics, wash your hands, listen to official directives. I understand that extensive measures need to be taken for the safety of those at risk.”
Similarly, Campbell explained that it’s important to think about everyone — not just yourself — when taking precautions against COVID-19. “I have a lot of family members, friends, teachers, etc. that have compromised immune systems and other things that make the disease more dangerous,” she said. Brendon also added that he’s “really worried” about some of his family members and teachers.
And it’s not just students that are feeling the complicated emotions surrounding cancelled or postponed productions. Katrina Faulstich, Choral and Theater Director at Bedford High School, had to cancel her school’s performance of Legally Blonde, with the hope of postponing for later in the year. “It was truly devastating,” she told Teen Vogue, noting that this past week contained the hardest days in her teaching career. “I had to write an email to all 70 students in our pit, cast, and crew, as well as their parents. I had to be so much more than a director and teacher this past week. I had to be a strong leader when I was crumbling inside, I had to be a guidance counselor for 70 students, and I had to keep working and planning in the face of an unknown future.”
Faulstich added that theater means the world to her students; performing is engrained in their identity. “All students were crying, and some were visibly angry and stormed out of the auditorium,” she recalled. “After we all took a few minutes to cry and hug it out, many students came up to me and thanked me for everything I had done for them. I was astounded by the kindness and professionalism my students demonstrated when they were grieving. I think by Thursday, the students realized how much of a global issue this is. It helped them to see that everyone in our country is going through this right now. It helped them to know that the precautions we are taking are legitimate and for the best.”
That sense of solidarity is a common thread among many theater students and directors — and it’s partly why Laura Benanti’s initial tweet took off as strongly as it did. “ I wasn’t expecting so many people to see the videos I posted,” Campbell said. “We didn’t get a live audience, but now we have reached even more people. Also, it’s comforting to know that other theater kids are going through the same thing. We are all in this together.”
Ultimately, that mantra will see us through this moment and onto the other side. And if anyone knows the power of teamwork, perseverance, and looking out for the collective well-being of a group — it's theater people. As Faulstich put it: “It’s these times of crisis and sorrow that teach us to be resilient, appreciate those around us, and keep on loving each other and ourselves.”
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Originally Appeared on Teen Vogue