LIKE MANY THEATRE students, when Thespians of Troupe 8628 at Marco Island Academy in Florida went on spring break in March, they never dreamed they wouldn’t be coming back to school. “We had our sights set on competing at the Florida State Thespian Festival the week after spring break, so that was the first downer,” said Christopher Dayett, the academy’s performing arts director. “Next came having to cancel an upcoming musical theatre class performance. It was sort of a double whammy.”

The following week, Dayett participated in a dramatic creation project called the Quarantine Bake-Off, based on an exercise developed by playwright Paula Vogel. According to Vogel’s website, “A bake-off is a quickly written exercise on an assigned theme with assigned elements that folks do within a 48-hour period of time.”

Later, while chatting with his Thespians via Zoom, Dayett said, “What I was hearing most was how bored they were and how much they missed working on performance-related things.” He floated the idea of hosting their own playwriting bake-off. “At the time, it was just a writing event with the possibility of doing a reading,” he said. The students enthusiastically agreed.

At 7 p.m. on March 27, World Theatre Day, Dayett posted their bake-off ingredients: a room, a roll of toilet paper or paper towels, a communication device, a lesson learned, and a source of light (with extra credit if glitter was worked into the play).

“Within the 48 hours, I had received seven plays written by students, many of whom had never written a play before,” said Dayett, who also wrote for the event.

They discussed doing a live virtual reading. “There was so much interest, and it was so hard to pick which plays to showcase, that we ultimately decided to do them all over the course of two nights,” Dayett said.

To reduce technical issues, playwrights decided to direct and prerecord their works over Zoom. They premiered the results on the school’s YouTube channel on May 8 and May 9 in a two-night digital theatre event titled The Show Must Go On(line)!

Promotional art for The Show Must Go On(line)! was created by Marco Island Academy students.
Promotional art for The Show Must Go On(line)! was created by Marco Island Academy students.

Playwrights cast Thespians, non-Thespians, and even some Thespian alumni to perform. Students from Dayett’s Theatre Production Design and Marketing course took over the social media promotion and came up with the name. “With over 40 students working on this production in some way, shape, or form, we had close to 20% of the student body working on the show,” Dayett said, adding the program was “100% student-led.”

Dayett and his students missed some aspects of live rehearsals. “Losing the ability to be in the same room, feed off each other’s energy, and also get a true audience reaction is probably the hardest,” he said. Nevertheless, he added that “remote rehearsals force you to listen and really be in tune with each other.”

According to senior Grace Fields, “The rehearsal process was quite fun, actually. … It’s so cool to see everyone’s take on the character and ‘stage’ directions through the screen. I just think it’s a cool, innovative idea that helps us not think about the quarantine we are going through now.”

Fields’ first-round script, Father, marks her playwriting debut. “I’ve always wanted to try it, so I’m glad this gave me the opportunity to write my own piece,” she said. “It’s so cool seeing the play I wrote come to life, even if it’s in a small way. It means a lot to me. The main thing I’ve learned from this experience is that, even though we can’t perform live together, we can still come together to create something amazing and beautiful.”

The success of this project led Dayett and his Thespians to launch a second round of the Quarantine Bake-off. Dayett said he tried to pick ingredients that would “lend themselves to more adventurous, comedy, summertime plays — but again, the ingredients are vague enough and can be left up to the interpretation or imagination of the playwrights.” The second-round ingredients included summer, darkness, something cool, a book, a misunderstanding, and (for extra credit) a gold hoop.

Indeed, he said, “Adventure seemed to be a common theme” in a few of the seven round-two submissions he received on June 28, which included works by five students and two faculty members, including Dayett. From these candidates, two winning scripts will be selected and helmed by more experienced directors: David T. Loudermilk, a third-year MFA student at Minnesota State University and Thespian alum from Troupe 2486 at Douglas Freeman High School in Henrico, Virginia, and Christen Mandracchia, a doctoral candidate at the University of Maryland.

Thespian Riley Letendre, a junior, wrote and directed Not a Kid Anymore and acted in three other plays during the bake-off’s first round. “It was so fun to talk to people again with a uniting reason and to get my creative juices flowing,” she said.

“Writing is truly what I love, but directing and acting is something I also enjoy, so I think it’s cool that I can do all of it with this project.”

Letendre admitted they had to work through occasional technical difficulties, but said, “I’ve learned how to be a better leader through it in a more relaxed environment than school normally is.”

Recent graduate Prestley Irvan described her round-one short script, The Prince and the Paper, as “a comedic play that features fun fairy-tale characters and settings.” This was also Irvan’s first experience playwriting, which she said “taught me to be creative and to really just let my imagination run wild. I have learned how to improve my writing skills and to see what it really takes not only to write a play but also to have only 48 hours to do it.”

Dayett hopes to premiere the Quarantine Bake-off Round Two in early August, which is also when school starts in their district — although at the time this article was written, it was hard to know what school reopening would look like. He said this playwriting project promotes creative momentum among students and gives them something to focus on when so much is uncertain.

For Letendre, the new playwriting credit helped redeem this period of relative isolation. “It’s so cool to me that I can say, ‘Oh yeah, I wrote and directed a play during the COVID-19 pandemic quarantine,’” she said.

Most importantly, according to Fields, MIA’s Quarantine Bake-off projects helped students stay connected to theatre and fellow Thespians. “Theatre is like a light in my life and it is something that brings me a lot of joy, so being without it for a long period of time can get to me,” she said. “I like how we can still express our love of theatre to the world from our couches.”

For Quarantine Bake-off Round Two updates, follow @MIAPerfArts on Facebook and Instagram.

  • Like What You Just Read? Share It!

  • Other Related Articles You May Enjoy

    Survival of Our Species

    Survival of Our Species

    Understanding base stories

    Jul 28, 2020

    Discover new voices

    Discover new voices

    Preview the 2020 Next Generation Works scripts

    Jun 25, 2020

    Going the distance

    Going the distance

    School theatre rehearsals move online

    May 13, 2020