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It’s difficult to imagine losing your final months of high school: senior prom, graduation, senior ditch day, and, potentially, the last opportunity to spend meaningful time with friends. In talking to my own high school friends, we agree it’s also unimaginable to not have a final performance.
I attended Denver School of the Arts (DSA) for middle and high school. I auditioned and was accepted to the school in sixth grade as a vocal music major. I appeared on stage dozens of times a year before graduating in 2009, but the crowning achievement of that effort was my senior project. It required me to perform a solo recital of 10 songs using the skills I had learned during my seven years at DSA. The process was the most challenging of my life, but the end result was the perfect capstone.
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Seniors this year, like Miranda Martinez, were looking forward to that same opportunity. Then the world changed. A theater major who has also attended DSA for seven years, Martinez was set to direct her department’s senior project—a play written and produced by the senior class—before COVID-19 halted production.
“We were pretty deep into the development stage,” says Martinez. “We had done our auditions, our first read through, and a blocking rehearsal. Then, the day after that, we didn’t come back to school.”
The sudden stoppage was difficult.
“It’s really made all of us feel sad because our senior year was supposed to end with this show. That’s always something that we’ve kind of taken for granted,” Martinez says. “These circumstances have really made us realize how fortunate we are to have gone to this school and received the opportunities that we did.”
Three other seniors wrote the project. The plan was to take the audience through an immersive theater journey, like Sleep No More in New York City. Audience members would roam through the offstage areas of the school, watching vignettes. The theme of the show was the transition from childhood to adolescence, with each location throughout the school representing a different world where teens grapple with experiences, such as the loss of innocence.
With the novel coronavirus in the public consciousness, an immersive experience was out of the question. Like all other types of learning at the school, theater had to transition to an online space. “Getting people together to put this in a digital format has been difficult,” Martinez says. “It’s really emphasized resourcefulness. It’s opened my eyes to how collaborative theater is—how much you depend on other people.”
One senior, Sam Kaplan, rose to the challenge of COVID-19 by leading the development of an interactive website, called Drawing Circles, that brings elements of the original script to light. The website features podcasts of each of the scenes along with pictures, music, and senior bios.
Luckily for Martinez, she did have one final curtain before the world shut down. Like everything during the pandemic, however, it was unorthodox: When DSA announced its suspension of in-person school in March, Martinez was in dress rehearsals for a show called The Wolves. Plans changed from a dress rehearsal to an actual production. “That last day we were told, ‘This is going to be your opening night—invite all of your family,'” Martinez says, “‘Because, after this, we’re not going to be able to do another show.’ So, I knew that was going to be my last time on stage.”
Martinez plans to pursue theater at the University of Southern California in the fall. Right now, the campus is planning to open. But if it doesn’t, Martinez is prepared because her senior year of high school—and especially her final time on stage—readied her to deal with unpredictability.