Second String more than marked the long-awaited return of Haverford School theatre productions; it pioneered an innovative approach to theatre in the coronavirus era. Many events work around the coronavirus, but Second String worked the new reality into its foundation.
“Let’s go!” Performing Arts Department Chair Darren Hengst said, met with an eruption of applause before the performance. About two minutes after the curtains closed, Hengst and his students let out a sigh of relief. They had just written, memorized, and delivered a show of nearly ninety minutes in just one-quarter of class time. But Second String was not an ordinary performance.
“We integrated ourselves into the story,” Fifth Former Ian Rush said.
Rush played the character Carson, a stereotypical nerd who serves a key part in Zach’s transformation from egotistical jock to a thoughtful friend, played by Sixth Former Drew Loughnane.
“It almost seemed like improv because I was acting similarly to how I am in school,” Rush said.
Watching Second String unfold, each actor was perfectly cast. But this was no coincidence.
“We wrote the story in mind of who we wanted each guy to be,” Sixth Former Liam Harkins said.
“Everyone told me to just be myself up there,” Sixth Former Amari Campbell said.
Yes, you heard that right. The students in the Theatre III* course not only performed Second String Thursday and Sunday in the second week of May, but they wrote and directed it as well.
“I came up with the idea during class one day. Then we all put our heads together and wrote the script,” Harkins said.
In short, the plotline surrounds Drew Loughnane’s Zach, a remarkable Haverford quarterback with limitless potential. This prodigy is caught partying without a mask on and faces a three-game suspension, where Liam Harkins’ Blake steps into the spotlight. Through a series of altercations over the quarterbacks’ egos, Zach’s girlfriend and past brother issues, and locker room tension, Zach overcomes his inability to own his mistakes, while Blake inversely becomes the egocentric, selfish athlete Zach was to begin with.
While the story centralized around the inverse dynamic character development of Zach and Blake, many supporting roles brought Second String together.
Sixth Former Amari Campbell’s sincere but down-to-business attitude shined through in his portrayal of J.C., the star wide receiver who takes the moral high ground in the quarterback drama.
“We got to watch everybody’s personality really come out in this,” Mr. Hengst said. “It was truly genuine.”
Genuine is an understatement. Sixth Former Amari Campbell’s sincere but down-to-business attitude shined through in his portrayal of J.C., the star wide receiver who takes the moral high ground in the quarterback drama. In his role of Wilson, the assistant coach, Sixth Former Trevor Pettibone embodied everything a mentor should be. The cast did an extraordinary job given their limited time, numbers, and resources.
“This has always been a goal of mine,” Mr. Hengst said. “I’ve never been able to, but I’ve always wanted to have my students write and perform their own work.”
To put this in perspective, Mr. Hengst planned this experiment for an entire semester. They delivered it in one quarter, but this did not hold these students back.
“Tonight went awesome. I thought it went so well,” Mr. Hengst said, describing the first of the back-to-back performances.
Putting together a successful show in such a small amount of time was no easy feat, and it came down to the wire.
“This was the first time we fully ran the play from start to finish. So it was very hectic, a lot of anxiety going around,” Rush said. “But that’s what I loved about it. The entire time, it was just so exciting because we were all kind of figuring it out as we went on.”
Audience members enjoyed the performance, both from Centennial Hall and the YouTube live stream. That’s right. For the first time, people could watch the performance from the comfort of their bed, or in Rush’s case, out of state.
“My grandma and best friends in Florida were able to watch. Shoutout to Mr. Hengst for having the idea to live stream,” Rush said.
Not only did this crew use a new platform to display their talent, but they also integrated technology into the play itself. For example, Upper School Dean Luqman Kolade played the head coach from his office, broadcast from the projector. Shipley senior Libby Ronon appeared on the big screen as Zach’s girlfriend Nicole in two separate scenes. Fifth Form director Jake LaRocca, projected images of iPhone messages and backdrops to enhance the play and emphasize key moments.
“We adapted to everything, we worked hard on our lines, and the result was everything we hoped it would be.”Drew Loughnane ’21
This Theatre III* class took the challenges posed by the pandemic in stride, innovating new ways to incorporate the current reality into their play with technology, creativity, and a hint of improvisation.
“I’m so proud of this class,” Sixth Former Drew Loughnane said. “We adapted to everything, we worked hard on our lines, and the result was everything we hoped it would be.”