Thespian Troupe 4630 from Ashland High School in Ashland, Oregon, will perform Clue: A Stay-at-Home Comedy on the Main Stage at the 2021 International Thespian Festival (ITF). Clue is adapted from the screenplay by Jonathan Lynn; additional materials by Hunter Foster, Eric Price, and Sandy Rustin; adapted from the Paramount Pictures film written by Jonathan Lynn and the board game from Hasbro, Inc. Troupe 4630 is one of six troupes whose show was chosen to run during prime time at the festival. We talked with Betsy Bishop, Jonathan Luke Stevens, and some of the troupe about the experience of producing the play at Ashland High School during the pandemic school year. There were challenges and rewards for everyone.

Why did you choose Clue for Troupe 4630?

Troupe Director, Betsy Bishop (BB): We decided that during COVID-19 we all needed some escape. Doing Clue, a comedy with fun characters, fit that need.

Play Director, Jonathan Luke Stevens (JLS): It was a daunting task to find a show that fit the needs of the department and that we could do over Zoom. I wanted a story that was uplifting and joyful. Everyone was hesitant about doing a play over Zoom. Even me! But after reading Clue, I knew it would work. As part of my research, I went back to the board game. When I was young and already a budding theatre artist, Clue was one of my favorites. I was already drawn to its theatricality.

As we sat in the middle of lockdown, the irony was not lost on me about the game’s origin. Clue was created in 1943 out of boredom during WWII air-raid blackouts. The creator, Anthony Pratt, longed for the fun of the murder-mystery parties he used to attend at country estates before the war.

All of this reminded me that you don’t always need a stage to experience theatre. You just need a living room, some loved ones, and a good story.

What challenges did you face doing Clue? What did you learn?

BB: There were almost too many challenges! Our amazing team and company made it happen.

JLS: First off, we had to overcome the challenges of blocking and movement. How do you give the production flow and movement when everyone is stuck in a Zoom box? How do they interact with each other? The questions were endless, and we went down rabbit holes sorting out our opinions.

In the end, I always looked to the cast to help guide me. I’d bring a wild idea—for instance, about how we could pass objects seemingly through the squares—and the students were always game to try. It ended up being a blast to experiment and embrace this form of virtual theatre. I think big obstacles release big creativity.

Ashland High School Students on the Challenges:

Evan Lucas: Working with set changes and cues were challenging. But adapting to and learning about this new form of entertainment was incredibly rewarding!

Jackson Shostrom: The delay in transmission and other wifi issues were challenges.

Secoya Joaquin: Zoom backgrounds would sometimes disappear and I’d have to re-load them discretely in the middle of a scene. That was challenging!

Alison Avery: The most difficult part was trying to turn my room into a good set.

Sarah Daley: The Open Broadcaster Software not working with my computer’s graphics processer was a challenge. However, I’m thrilled to have been able to stage manage a show for the first time. I learned so much about stage management for which I’m very grateful.

Were there any rewards of producing Clue on Zoom?

BB: The pride the troupe felt in the finished, virtual production was the best. We even had a cast party over Zoom!

JLS: Seeing the kids connect. They hadn’t seen each other in person in months. They were all stuck in their homes alone. Seeing them experience the joys of putting on a show with a group of friends was the most rewarding aspect.

Ashland High School Students on the Rewards:

Sofia DiMaggio: Seeing all my friends and watching them have fun!

Secoya Joaquin: It was rewarding pulling off a play in a time when, by all accounts, it seemed impossible.

Sarah Daley: The most rewarding part of stage managing the show was running the entire thing from my computer. I learned to troubleshoot the software. It was a real tech experience.

And to wrap up the story, here are the students’ comments about some of the adventures and lessons of producing theatre from home:

Secoya Joaquin: This is random, but because of the delay I kept running back and forth between rooms in my house. I’d go watch my parents watch the scene I just did. Also, I had a scene where I had to spit out ginger ale. I accidentally spat it out on my pappy who was on the side helping me with props!

Alison Avery: I learned that, in difficult situations like a global pandemic, we artists can still use our creativity to continue doing what we love.

Sofia DiMaggio: Lots of things can go wrong, but if you have the patience and perseverance to move forward, it can go great.

Evan Lucas: I learned how to deal with relative isolation and developed patience. My dog, Pepper, kept coming into the office and pulling down my green screen!

Sarah Daley: Theatre doesn’t need to be in person to be rewarding.

Betsy Bishop teaches and produces theatre at Ashland High School. You can find her on LinkedIn

Jonathan Luke Stevens worked with special needs students at the Ashland High School in PROJECT UP. This was his first time directing for the troupe. You can read more about him here. And find him on Instagram @jlstevens.

Patty Craft is Content Manager for Dramatics.org. She lives and writes on 10 acres in southwestern Ohio where she also hikes to her heart’s content. If you have a story idea share it with us here.

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