BRANDYWINE HUNDRED — One of the hard-hit areas of education during the coronavirus pandemic has been the arts. Plays, musicals and concerts were canceled when schools shut down last spring, and even at those where students have returned, the arts are still affected.
At St. Edmond’s Academy in north Wilmington, music instructor and choral director Deborah DeHart has gathered a group of six sixth-grade students to perform a play virtually beginning Friday. “Tales from Tockwogh” is based on the experience of telling scary stories around a campfire. St. Edmond’s teacher Stan Arasim normally takes students to Camp Tockwogh on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. He wasn’t able to do that this year, so they brought the camp to school.
DeHart said the school is making the best of the situation. She wishes she could have included more students, but they had to remain within the cohorts they are separated into. Rehearsals were done at school, but the final product was recorded via Zoom.
“What you can do with technology is amazing,” she said.
Sometimes, the stories told at camp can be disturbing, but that is not the case with “Tales from Tockwogh.
“They were nicely scary, but not so scary that the kids won’t sleep,” she said.
The play will premiere on Oct. 30 for St. Edmond’s students and their families. The students are Jude Pryor, Milo Turner, Christopher Russell, T.J. Healy, Noah Hoyle and Jacob Sepehriazar.
This was a new experience for DeHart. Rehearsals took place in classrooms, with students distanced and masked. It was recorded with students in six different locations, but the same background was used for continuity. She credited the boys and Arasim – making his acting debut, according to DeHart – for bringing everything together.
“It was an amazing thing to watch these kids gain confidence as performers. I feel badly that we couldn’t do more, but at least we’re doing something,” she said.
In an effort to get the rest of the school involved in the production, the other students will vote on their favorite ghost story.
The current setup has put additional responsibilities on the young actors, DeHart said. They are more on their own while learning their material.
“They have to be self-confident to do the recordings,” she said. “So far, they have not disappointed. It makes me very happy that the arts mean that much to them that they are giving their time and effort.”
The arts department at St. Edmond’s is making other coronavirus-related accommodations. DeHart said there are plans to have a musical in the spring. “That will be remote, so I can involve grades four to eight in that.”
The choirs at St. Edmond’s are rehearsing outside, and they will conduct a virtual Christmas performance. Rehearsals, in accordance with best practices, are limited to half hour to minimize spread of coronavirus aerosols. There are also plans for a talent show.
“I won’t say it’s like everything’s normal, but it’s not going to stop us,” DeHart said.