Throughout the school’s recent history, the performing arts department has delivered exciting live performances and passionate storytelling. Mr. Darren Hengst, The Grace and Mahlon Buck Chair in Performing Arts, was determined to continue this trend even through COVID-19 limitations. The result was an “Evening of Scenes and Monologues,” an innovative idea that combined technology with traditional theater.
Mr. Hengst first distributed scripts of monologues and scenes amongst students wanting to perform. Because live audiences weren’t possible, performances were filmed to imitate a normal theater setting.
“Restrictions were such that we could have one student unmasked on stage,” Mr. Hengst said.
Monologues, typically speeches by a single actor, were simple to record given the restrictions. On the other hand, scenes that incorporated multiple actors proved to be an issue. A large green screen provided a solution.
“The green screen allowed us to make it look like we could have scenes with two or three people standing on stage when it’s really one person on stage at a time,” Mr. Hengst said.
Through post-production editing, individual recordings could be combined to create an entire scene filled with dynamic interactions between actors. Still, Mr. Hengst wanted to ensure that actors employed core theater skills.
“It’s important for me to keep teaching the skills of theater, so I wanted it to seem very theatrical—that I wasn’t shooting a film,” Mr. Hengst said. “At some points, we would have a tape where you [the audience] saw the actor’s full body, so the actors would still be working on things we would work on during normal years rather than completely shifting to film acting.”
To capture all the movements of an actor, the crew used multiple cameras at different angles. Despite needing several technological components, technical issues were rare. Fifth Former Nate Mirin, an actor who performed a monologue, acknowledges how straightforward his recording process was.
“Overall, my monologue went pretty smoothly…There weren’t many challenges throughout the recording process.”Nate Mirin ’23
“Overall, my monologue went pretty smoothly,” Mirin said. “There weren’t many challenges throughout the recording process.”
Using multiple cameras allowed the team to share a separate camera’s view through Zoom. Brandon J. Dirden, an award-winning actor and a good friend of Mr. Hengst, was able to guest direct virtually through this method.
“During Amari Campbell’s monologue, Amari could see Brandon on our computer setup,” Mr. Hengst said. “The best part about it was that we could hook the cameras on to Zoom, so that the camera that Brandon was watching Amari through was exactly what I was filming. I thought it was awesome for Brandon’s direction and really valuable for Amari as well.”
After recording finished, Mr. Hengst began editing on Adobe Premiere Pro. Despite knowing the basics of the program, Mr. Hengst recognized that his knowledge wasn’t perfect.
“I knew I was being incredibly inefficient; it was taking a long time,” Mr. Hengst said.
Fortunately, Mr. Hengst was able to attend a class over the summer to learn more about the program.
“Ms. Brown found this class with the School of Visual Arts in New York City in the summer,” Mr. Hengst said. “It was incredible. I learned the program ‘soup to nuts.’”
With his newfound skills, Mr. Hengst was able to translate what he learned into other productions.
“What I learned from the monologues I was able to take into the orchestra for filming and editing their spring concert,” Mr. Hengst said.
“There are shows that could really be enhanced by video being pushed into the storytelling aspect of it…For example, we could film live backgrounds for a show and edit them properly to use during a scene change.”Mr. Darren Hengst
Mr. Hengst also envisions future shows incorporating more video technology.
“There are shows that could really be enhanced by video being pushed into the storytelling aspect of it,” Mr. Hengst said. “For example, we could film live backgrounds for a show and edit them properly to use during a scene change. That’s something I’m really interested in doing, and I think it’s possible with these new skills.”
Students found “Evening of Scenes and Monologues” entertaining and worth the actors’ time.
“It did end up being a really fun experience that I would definitely do again given the opportunity,” Mirin said.