Theater department’s virtual one-act hits the Zoom stage

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Photo by Renee Demars Dehn and the cast of "Help Desk"

Help Desk hits the virtual stage in Columbia Heights High School’s first production of 2021! Clockwise from top left: Dani Plasch (12) as Boris, Boffo and Brin; Sophie Kuether (10) as Talula, Monique, Yamira and Vic; Chrishonna Soward (11) as Jeralyn, Tamara, and Jess; Lily Kleinschmit (9) as Tanner, Marcus, Charlie and Vic; Danquyen Le (10) as Bailey, Mara and Mabel; Catherine Loper (12) as Carter, Preston and Chase; and Yuli Cordova (11) as Angel, Dani, Brent and Brett.

Students in the Columbia Heights theater program are being particularly adaptable this year. The upcoming performance of “Help Desk” will be performed virtually by a dedicated group of 10 students and their co-directors Owen Johnson and Tara Lorence. 

“Help Desk” is a Zoom-based one-act play written by Don Zolidis that centers around the difficulties of calling for assistance. From clowns to scammers, this comedy is a good way to get your theater fix during the pandemic. When someone is trying to get through a hectic day, a wacky phone call could be the last thing to tip someone over the edge. Clowns, and telemarketers too for that matter, do tend to have that effect. 

With the desire to continue theater during the pandemic, there have been many productions being produced for or converted to a Zoom format. One-acts are the length of one act of a full-length play, typically around 30-40 minutes, but they tell a complete, if more concise story. Most years, the Minnesota State High School League hosts an in-person competition for one-acts performed by high school theater departments, but this year, they are encouraging schools to submit a video of their show to be judged and receive feedback. 

Performing in a virtual theater has definitely been different for actors, with many aspects of the typical on-stage experience missing. 

“It’s much harder to engage yourself, and it’s definitely hard to adapt yourself to it,” actor Yuli Cordova said (11). “It’s not the same as being in person, with all the people and it’s not the same outside experience. Usually when you’re not in a scene, you get to do all this stuff with the other characters, like running lines, drawing with other characters, and it’s just so much fun.” . 

Missing social experiences and the lack of an in-person performance is a change from past years, but it’s not all bad. Now that students can’t act on-stage, actors can perform in unusual situations.

 “It is interesting because I’m not even in-state right now and I still get to perform. So it does have good aspects to it,” Lily Kleinschmit (9) said. 

Having an unorthodox performance this year is opening up different opportunities and experiences for actors too. 

“Some people are more comfortable performing online,” Danquyen Le (10). “For me, I play characters that are crazy and it’s kind of embarrassing to perform that, but it’s easier to perform across a screen rather than in-person.” 

While this is a different experience from what so many students have become accustomed to over the years, it is also a way to keep some type of normalcy when life has been turned around. 

“It’s honestly not that different from being in a normal play,” returning Heights actor Katie Loper (11) said. “It’s a little more complicated technically, but you still have to memorize, make sure that you’re able to keep yourself in character, have costumes—that kind of stuff. It hasn’t been that different in my experience.” 

The dedicated actors in the CHHS drama department have persevered and been able to continue to produce a show, and while it’s not the ideal method of production, it’s still admirable and exciting. 

“We’re all just really trying our best to adapt while still being able to do what we love,” Sophie Kuether (10) said. 

“Help Desk” will be prerecorded and is set to premiere virtually on January 23 at 7 p.m. Once the link is live, the performance will be available for view for 24 hours. Tickets are available for $6 each on the Columbia Heights Public Schools Activities website