With school having been virtual for nearly a year, the theatre program at Leesburg’s Heritage High School was forced to navigate a slew of obstacles in order to make this year’s spring production a reality.
“It was challenging to do theatre because we did not have in-person school and we had a lot of concerns and a lot of questions about COVID, those sorts of things, but the students have always loved doing theatre, so we worked really hard to find a way to make it possible,” HHS Director of Theatre Angela Ramacci told the Times-Mirror.
Through dedication, innovative staging and presentation techniques, as well as lots of help from school administrators, parent boosters and the internet, HHS’s new mystery play, “Whodunnit,” was safely produced and will be available to stream online as a film starting Saturday.
Described by Ramacci as “a family-friendly mystery piece,” “Whodunnit” follows an ensemble cast of characters as they work to determine who snatched a valuable necklace. It was written by Aspen McLeod, one of Ramacci’s friends from graduate school, and features three unique endings, each of which will be shown during one of the three showings on Saturday, Sunday and Monday evenings.
“You’re only going to see each one once. The idea is that different students get highlighted in each of these endings,” Ramacci said. “The opportunity to see all 41 of them shine across the different endings is really appealing.”
A team of more than 60 students — 41 actors and 20 crew members — spent the months leading to the premiere rehearsing virtually and learning how to operate cameras and sound equipment in order to capture high-quality recordings of the play.
The cast and crew recently received one week of permitted in-person access to the school’s theatre facility, where they only had a handful of days to prepare the technical side of the production, practice blocking and ultimately conduct filming, using specialized, see-through face masks and a grid of tape on the stage to mark physical distancing boundaries.
“So many students got amazing, new opportunities to learn about film and how to do sound for something like a film, which is not what we normally are creating,” Ramacci said.
For many students, this was their first time visiting the HHS auditorium, as the pandemic put a hold on theatre activities last March.
“Last spring we lost our opportunity to do a spring musical, so some kids, this is their first opportunity,” Ramacci said. “It really warms my heart and gets me really excited about what we created.”
Each showing on Feb. 27, 28 and March 1 will take place at 7 p.m. Guests will have the opportunity to purchase either access to a single virtual presentation or a package with access to all three for a slightly discounted rate. Per Ramacci, the latter is available to encourage audiences to “celebrate all of our students, since different endings highlight different actors.”
She added, “I hope people keep seeking new ways to support student opportunities like this as we’re navigating this new landscape and seeing ways that we can really be unstoppable.”
Access for one to three viewers for a single showing is available for $10 per viewer, while a single-show pass for four or more viewers is $40. Three-night packages vary in price.
More information on “Whodunnit” and tickets are available at heritagedrama.com.