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D&T’s School Productions Conference is taking place online from 8-11 March.

Sarah Lambie

Learning to adapt: School productions in the Covid era

12:24, 8th February 2021

Tom Kirkham and Sarah Lambie consider challenges and solutions to school performances in a pandemic.

We are all learning to adapt. The challenges of the last months, whether physical, emotional, financial or logistical, have necessitated fast-paced change in our behaviour and outlook. The ‘new normal’ may not be exactly as we would choose, but it has nevertheless allowed us to reintroduce into our lives some fundamental elements. In many schools, the school play lies at the heart of the academic year. But delivery now has to be different. The show may need to go ahead with a remote audience. It may need to be performed with smaller casts or particular bubbles of children. It may need to take place outside, and it might – as disappointing as this may sound – need to be undertaken without singing.

It won’t be the same and it may not be easy, but when has that ever stopped teachers from doing anything? They, of all people in all professions, cope with whatever is thrown at them on a daily basis, rising to the occasion for the benefit of their students.

A lot is changing on a daily basis, and it will continue to do so, so Drama & Theatre has put together an online conference ‘From Page to Stage’, to cover all eventualities and fill teachers in on all aspects of choosing, rehearsing and performing a school production – live or online.

Going live

Ideally, schools will still be able to invite parents and grandparents to watch in person. It might be that fewer can attend and that they need to be positioned according to social distancing rules. If, however, having a live audience proves to be too difficult, then filming the performance for it to be watched remotely is a good alternative.

If you wish to broadcast the production live, then a single static camera will be the simplest option, positioned from the viewpoint of the audience. A strong Wi-Fi signal and decent bandwidth will be required. There are a number of platforms over which you could broadcast – Zoom webinar is likely to be the most familiar to your audience, especially any parents who have undertaken remote working. The paid account, rather than the free option, will be required, though this can be purchased as a one-off cost if necessary. Zoom also allows you the option to record the broadcast and save it on the cloud. The link can then be shared as necessary, or the broadcast itself can be downloaded before being made available.

Other options, some of which you may have already made use of for remote teaching and learning, include Microsoft Teams and Google Classroom, or you might consider Facebook Live or Instagram Live. Each is relatively user-friendly and all provide online guidance and tutorials about how to use their service. Whichever option you use, you will of course need to have organised and communicated the relevant access and log-in information in advance, as well as ensuring that parents or guardians have given permission for their child to participate.

One other consideration is the value of practising a live broadcast during the dress rehearsal or before, including having one or more people (the more the better) watching from a remote location.

Lights, camera, action!

An alternative option, one that perhaps removes some of the uncertainties of live broadcasting, would be to pre-record the production before uploading to a private channel on YouTube, with access available only by invitation. You might even consider bringing in a professional to do this with two or more cameras, allowing for post-production editing.

Al fresco performances

For those looking to avoid any technical requirements, you might even think about performing your show outside. A small temporary stage, simple sound system and a well-spread audience could well be the answer. Over the course of the last many months, schools across the country have demonstrated how resourceful, flexible and creative they can be, embodying the very characteristics that we all want to see in our students and children. Where a way can be found, schools will find it, and the school productions of 2021 will, perhaps more than ever, be truly memorable and uplifting occasions.

To see the full programme for D&T’s School Productions Conference, go to www.schoolproductions.co.uk

This article is adapted from one which appeared in Drama & Theatre Autumn 2, 2020.

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