Valley Parents: Students write, create pandemic-themed podcast series at Northern Stage

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    Crossroads Academy eighth-grader Hannah Malin-Stremlau during the making of Northern Stage's "Portraits of the Pandemic." (Courtesy Northern Stage) Courtesy Northern Stage

Valley Parents Correspondent
Published: 2/12/2021 11:03:33 AM
Modified: 2/12/2021 11:03:30 AM

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — Professional live theater is a tough business to be in right now.

For the education department at Northern Stage in White River Junction, though, the pandemic has sparked new creative ways to create theater art.

In March, Director of Education and Associate Artistic Director Eric Love began the project Portraits of the Pandemic with students in the Northern Stage’s education programming. He sent out five prompts over eight weeks that 34 students responded to. Love would read through each written response and provide feedback to each student. Once a week, all of them would gather over Zoom and discuss their work.

“Through those eight weeks I was just thinking, ‘wow they’re incredible writers and they’re expressing an experience that I’m not hearing on the news,’ ” Love said. “We’re hearing about the pandemic on a macro level, but they’re talking about it on a daily level.”

In an excerpted response to the second prompt, “Given everything you’ve heard about COVID-19, what is your best guess for when all restrictions will be lifted and we can return to normal group social gathering?” Lebanon High School senior Emma Cranage, 17, wrote in late March, “Recovery doesn’t mean immunity. Even as we reach the crest of the curve, flattened or not, we as a population will not be safe until the very last case is eliminated. We can all work to #flattenthecurve and celebrate our #healthcareheroes, but as long as there are careless people gallavanting around in a world they were raised to believe they own, we will be stuck in a downward spiral of constant sickness.”

Portraits of the Pandemic has been one of her greatest joys this year, Cranage wrote. While she values the opportunities to perform that she’s had with Northern Stage the last five years, she’s greatly enjoyed the writing and editing processes.

“For college, I am now considering adding a minor in English to complement my major in political science,” she wrote.

The students’ work moved Love and the education department to want to create a podcast of these snapshots as a part of a “time-capsule” collage of the first two months of the pandemic.

“It’s about their collective experience though vignettes and moments and stories, rather than one person’s individual journey.” Love said. “The podcast format has been really intriguing because it is a great way to focus in on the power of voice and speech, and I hope to find a way to share these stories to a wider audience.”

After a long editing process — which Love likens to distilling — the first episode of the Portraits of the Pandemic was to be released in early February as this was going to press. Each week a new episode will be released to the public for eight weeks.

“I’ve gotten to experience the students’ talents through a different lens,” Love said. “Some students really thrive when they write and have that time. Some students are thriving on the computer Zooming. We’ve definitely gotten to approach our theater making craft from a different angle.”

Northern Stage’s Youth Ensemble Studio (YES) elementary school program BridgeUp: Theater in the Schools will do a live-streamed performance of She Kills Monsters, a play about love, loss and Dungeons and Dragons. The playwright Qui Nguyen quickly adapted his play to the screen, entitling this version She Kills Monsters: Virtual Realms, which YES students will showcase on Thursday, March 25 and Friday, March 26, at 7:30 p.m.

YES, Jr., which is geared toward 4-6th graders, will rehearse and perform a 30-minute virtual version of The Emperor’s New Clothes over February break. Northern Stage’s BridgeUP:Theater in the Schools program is a partnership with local elementary schools to teach students about Shakespeare through producing and performing one of his plays.

Director of BridgeUP Kate Kenney found that a shaggy puppet named Aquifer was helpful in engaging students over Zoom last April during the program, so this year BridgeUP will be a puppet production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

“COVID is definitely preventing us from doing what we want to do, but what can we do that we wouldn’t have the bandwidth to do otherwise?” Love said. “The Education Department is so important because young people are learning so much about themselves and the world and what’s important to them and these educational experiences encapsulate so many life skills of collaboration and bravery and self-expression and compromise and hard work.”

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