Why the theater’s so important at Washington

Images provided by Renée Diop.

A light shuffle can be heard, voices hush in the house. Red velvet curtains ripple and harsh light glares from behind. You turn to see a figure holding the base of a lamp, shining a beam on the main character, center stage. Dress adorned with intricate patterns, a princess begins an intriguing monologue. You sit back in your seat, ready for the show. 

It’s 5:00 pm already, you’re technically late. The Zoom link takes a few seconds to load, but you’re in, right as the cast is introduced. Your camera is off, but the cast is illuminated by different sources of light, virtual backdrops glitching in and out as they move. It’s fun, but it’s not the same.

The pandemic tested the limits of art to its very extreme, but despite this, drama has prevailed via online platforms such as Zoom. At our very own Washington High School, the Husky Talent Show was held on Zoom this May, along with other online shows such as “Parallel Lives” and “Heteromania.”

In my sophomore year, before quarantine, I acted in the fall-winter play, “Arabian Nights,” showing me the importance of drama–and even challenging my cognitive skills through memorizing lines. Since I didn’t participate last year, I wondered if these skills persevered online, so I talked to Wilhelm Scholz, the co-president of the Performing Arts Club. “Drama is a good outlet to give yourself a voice, and get to know some people,” he said. “But when it comes to Zoom performances, a lot of that goes out the window. It becomes ‘How can we closely emulate the real experience?’ COVID-19 created a lot of limitations for drama.”

But as if in spite of the pandemic, the reconstruction of the Husky Theater has begun. Mr. Yick-Koppel, theater director and drama teacher here at Washington, explains, “A new theater space will invite more students to get involved who might not normally have,” he said. “Students who are passionate about not just drama, but community ethnic dance groups, spoken poetry, and all types of performance are now welcome.”

According to him, there has never been a real theater here in Washington. Originally a woodshop classroom, the Husky Theater was transformed into a box stage with minimal seating and dangerous electrical wiring. In the Spring of 2019, a week before the opening of Legally Blonde, a fire marshall determined that it was unsafe and would be forced to shut down, unless major renovations occurred. Hannah Martinez-Crow, former president of the Performing Arts Club, created #SaveOurTheater to encourage students and community members to attend a school board meeting where they spoke passionately about how much theater meant to them, and how big of a void it would create in their lives if it disappeared.

Wilhelm can vouch for this, stating, “My friends and I worked very hard to make sure that it wouldn’t get shut down, going to meetings at the town hall.” The school board finally made the unanimous decision to reconstruct Husky Theater in 2019, with a budget of $4M. The building is expected to be finished by October, just in time for the 2021 winter play, a comedic mystery called “Rumors” by Neil Simon.

Clearly, the drama department at Washington has a bright future. The lack of theater last year was felt by the students and the community. Public performance, whether it be acting, debate, dance, or spoken poetry, will always be critical for real-world skills. And now, nothing can stop us from preserving them.

Renée Diop and Rhea Jain posing for a picture after the play.

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