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BArT sophomore John Kozak poses with his homemade prop in his character for 'The Mousetrap.' The homebound students are rehearsing their performances for the play using Zoom.

At BArT Charter, the Show Must Go ... Online

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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Like other schools in the state, BArT charter school is closed, making it impossible for drama students to put on their spring production.
ADAMS, Mass. — When schools were forced to close in March, the drama group at Berkshire Arts and Technology Public Charter School could have thrown in the towel on its spring production.
Instead, it decided to build a better "Mousetrap."
"We did not want to give up on the play and do want to keep the connection going with our cast mates," said John Kozak, a sophomore who has been involved in productions at school since the sixth grade. "We were all excited about doing 'The Mousetrap.' "
But instead of doing it on stage on May 9 as it originally planned, the club is working on the play in a virtual environment, utilizing the Zoom video conferencing platform to learn the play, develop their characters and discover a new way to present the Agatha Christie play that has been running in London's West End since it opened in 1952.
"As soon as the first school closure happened, we said, 'Let's get together on Zoom and keep our momentum going with the readings,'" drama teacher Alexia Trainor said. "When they said three weeks, we said, 'We can still do this. Let's get everything down and then come back and do the blocking and the sets.'
"When it went to May 4, when that announcement came out, we said, 'It's not going to happen.' "
Not on the stage anyway, not this spring.
But the students are interested in rescheduling their live performance for next fall, Trainor said. And in the meantime, they are finding new ways to express their creativity.
"With Zoom, we can record on there," Trainor said. "I figured out a way to spotlight the speakers so only the character speaking would be seen. We're taking it in small chunks. I'll film a scene where two characters are talking.
"We're trying to use a green screen or blue screen to give us a virtual background."
It is a different kind of acting for the aspiring thespians, who each are collaborating from their homes in front of a screen instead of on a stage alongside their cast mates.
"It is kind of hard to shift gears," said Kozak, who played the lead in BArT's January production of "Spamalot."
"I'm still trying to figure it out. But it's interesting to look off to the right and think you're talking to someone but you're just staring at a wall. It is interesting to try out the new medium and think on a cinematic line instead of a theatrical line."
That is just one of the challenges of staging a play in a stay-at-home world.
"Costuming and props, especially, have been a lot trickier without BArT's repository or having the ability to ask the whole art team, 'If we can't buy this, can we make it?' " Kozak said.
"My character smokes a pipe. I didn't want to give it up. I couldn't find one online. So I took a half a toilet paper tube and a straw, covered it over with papier mache and painted it brown. We're all a creative bunch and really artsy, too."
And an adaptable one, too, including their director.
"We're doing everything by the seat of our pants -- even figuring out how to use Zoom," Trainor said. "I've done a little bit of film. My brother works in film. I've edited some stuff.
"But as far as teaching it and doing a full-scale thing, this is new to me. But I'm having fun doing it. And the kids are, which I think is the most important thing."
It remains to be seen whether anyone outside the group will be able to see the filmed performances.
"As of right now, we're not planning to release it publicly," Trainor said. "We're thinking if anything we may release 10-minute episodes. … I'm researching it and seeing how it would work, especially with something that would need to have royalties."
It may be especially tricky for this play, which never has had an authorized film version because of a clause in the film rights that famously prohibits any movie's release until six months after the West End version closes.
"I know a few of the theater companies are doing live readings," Trainor said. "I'm going to try to contact them and see how they manage that. If that's the case and if it's simple, releasing it as a livestream is something we would try to do."
In the meantime, Trainor is just happy that the group decided to plug away at the production, no matter how or when the public gets a peek.
"It's been amazing," she said. "I'm pretty impressed with how they've really stuck to it, especially since it's not the same as doing a live performance.
"They really, really wanted to do this."

Tags: BArT,   high school production,   

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Vote For Susan: How High Will the Nov. 3 Numbers Be?

ADAMS, Mass. —The Vote For Susan Project is hoping residents surpass past voter turnout numbers. 

In Adams, there have been more than 1,800 mail-in ballot requests for the upcoming presidential election. 
On Saturday afternoon, the first day of early voting, 70 people cast ballots at Town Hall. An additional 42 showed up on Sunday morning. There are another nine days of early voting after Monday and the actual election is on Nov. 3.
Local turnouts for the last four presidential elections have averaged 67.7 percent of registered voters and 4,045 votes cast.
  • In 2004 - 67 percent or 4,073 votes cast
  • In 2008 - 69.7 percent or 4,099 votes cast
  • In 2012 - 66 percent or 3,931votes cast 
  • In 2016 - 68 percent or 4,080 votes cast 
The number of the town's registered voters has climbed over 6,000, slightly higher than the 5,800 plus to 5,900 plus of recent years.  
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