By Ben Rodgers
DE PERE – In keeping with the theme of 2020, the De Pere High School musical was not put together under normal circumstances.
“Freaky Friday,” based on the Disney movie with the same name, was put together under the normal time frame, with rehearsals starting in early September.
But two weeks in, all of the rehearsals shifted online as COVID-19 cases started to rise.
Not only did the 18 cast members learn the majority of their singing parts over Google Meet, but they also had to learn choreography and blocking virtually.
“I think a lot of people downplay the amount of work that goes into putting a production together, and I think that it’s easy for people to think it doesn’t take much to put it on, but it really does,” said Emma Hujet, a junior playing the role of Katherine Blake. “We worked so hard for this production, so for people to come and see it is their way of showing they approve of the hard work we’ve done and the effort we put in. If I could ask one thing from anybody, it would be to come watch the show.”
In “Freaky Friday,” Katherine is the mother to Ellie Blake, and the two end up switching bodies, learning some lessons in the end.
For the De Pere musical, Ellie is played by Hujet’s good friend. junior Ahna Voelz.
“Doing it normally takes a lot of time, a lot work, but I personally don’t think it takes that much more time doing it online,” Voelz said. “I actually work really well independently on my own. It’s something I’ve always been good at. As difficult as it is, I think it really benefited me in a way, and I was able to benefit from the time to be efficient and work really well with the time slot we used everyday to practice.”
The duo has also gotten together a couple of times to work on their songs together, as they live down the street from each other.
Ethan Welch, a senior playing the male lead Adam, hasn’t had those opportunities.
“I’d rather have rehearsals in-person,” Welch said. “Virtually, we can be a lot more focused during rehearsals, but the energy, the thing that’s really driving you to want to perform, is not so present there because you can’t be excited about it together like you can in-person, and that’s probably what I miss most about the in-person rehearsals.”
The cast spent most of last week throwing everything learned virtually together in-person before filming the show under the auspices of musical director Raquel Lopez.
“When I teach everybody, I’ll have 20 kids on a Zoom call and everybody will have to mute, and I just teach to a quiet chorus and magically hope they sound as beautiful as I think they do,” Lopez said.
This is the third show at De Pere High School for the director, who normally would have a student help with teaching the music parts, but this year she was on her own.
“It’s hard because I have to really rely on the kids to know their entrances,” Lopez said. “We’re not able to have a live pit band this year, which is something the kids have had since most of them have remembered, so we have to work purely off a soundtrack, versus having the pit match us.”
She took all the parts for all the songs and uploaded them into Google Classroom, where the cast members downloaded them and learned their collective parts separately.
Lopez said she has a degree in acting, not musical theater, but now she can play the piano with both hands, instead of just one.
“My piano skills are horrendous, but the kids accepted that and we’ve figured out a way for everybody to learn music,” she said. “That was my biggest challenge this year. I became a music teacher overnight.”
Lopez had some encouragement from Robert Mohar and Pete Dignan, two staff members with musical experience in De Pere.
“Every time a roadblock hits I email them and say ‘Now this just happened and can the show go on?’ And they’ll respond ‘The show must go on!’” Lopez said.
Just as the cast has a lot to learn, as with all high school musicals, it’s a team effort.
Other students helping with “Freaky Friday,” include stagehands, lighting, costumes and makeup.
Students are responsible for their own costumes and makeup, after Lopez gives approval.
In a normal year, Lopez said the number of students involved is more than 100, and this year that number is in the thirties.
“I think it worked out in our favor a little bit,” she said. “We have to limit how many kids are on stage, where kids are. It makes it easier to keep track of. Plus, more kids were given an opportunity to play different parts, which I think is awesome, seeing a kid play three parts, and display a wide range of acting.”
“Freaky Friday” will be presented as a pre-recorded stream at 7 p.m. Nov. 27 and 28 and at 2 p.m. Nov. 29.
Ticket holders will be given a link to watch a pre-recorded stream of the show online.
“I was blown away the first week of virtual rehearsals,” Lopez said. “Kids are resilient and people tend to forget how adaptive they can be.”