Fall Play Takes to Outdoor Stage

“Pivot” continues to be the word of the year, and FWCD’s Upper School Theatre Department did so brilliantly last week with their performances of 13 Ways to Screw Up Your College Interview. The scene was set by FWCD’s Technical Theatre crew of Jack Bradford ’24, Mitchell Crawford ’22, Josh Guhl ’21, Emma Hargrove ’23, Aidan Karsten ’21, Walker Smith ’21 and Mark Wong ’22 under the direction of Scott Theater Manager Eric Tysinger. The challenge: to create the physical world of this play while also providing adequate spacing for both the student actors and the audience.

To do this, students in the Theatre Tech class started at square one and developed a space. “We are so fortunate at FWCD to have equipment that can translate to outdoors,” Tysinger said, “and we have the hardest-working, most dedicated Plant Operations team that only wants the best for our students.” The crew members brainstormed areas, lighting, power and more to create a venue that would allow for socially distanced seating in the greenbelt area near the FWCD Memorial Caring Bridge.

A 24-foot by 20-foot by 12-inch stage was built to provide a playing space for the cast similar to an amphitheater. A portable lighting and sound system was used. “Ultimately, it was important that the tech theater students be provided an opportunity to really ‘do’ what they have been learning about in class,” Tysinger noted. “This included running the lights and sound and managing the stage, just like they would in any other production.”

Much of the technology in this management process is computer-based, and the students were part of it all. “This was a student-driven learning opportunity with no hired guns,” Tysinger said. “Walker Smith, who has an interest in sound beyond FWCD, understood the technical aspects of the sound system and spent time researching information to overcome many of the challenges we faced outdoors. This also provided us with a unique opportunity to understand what it means to take a show on the road. We had to put it all on a truck, take it to the venue, set it all up, run the show, and take it all back down.”

While the cast had been rehearsing (wearing masks) in small groups for about six weeks, the technical crew’s Tech Week was about three days for the set up and staging of the performances. The set took on the look of a small conference room or headmaster’s office. 

On Wednesday, October 14, the 12-member cast of Christopher Baker ’23, Gracie Cross ’22, Evan Dickerson ’24, Sydney Cyprian ’22, Izzy Gutierrez ’22, Christopher Hoppe ’21, Olivia Kersh ’24, Nicolas Medaris ’23, Jaiden Patel ’23, Ava Scott ’23, Gavin Spikes ’24 and Landen Walker ’22, under the direction of Upper School Theatre Director Travis Guba, offered a dress rehearsal wearing masks of 13 Ways to Screw Up Your College Interview to FWCD senior students and faculty/staff members. The play centers on two college recruiters at a prestigious private university who need to fill one last spot to keep their jobs and the 13 eccentric and slightly insane high school seniors who eagerly come in for an interview. Packed with wacky characters from an amateur bodybuilder to a vigilante superhero and his nemesis, each applicant's interview hilariously illustrates what NOT to do in a college interview. 

“When we began this process, we had to ask ourselves what would be our priority. Theater is about a community -- a community of actors working to create a performance to present to the larger community. Every night is its own special event to be witnessed. Most schools and theaters are opting to do something via Zoom or streaming, but that did not feel complete to me. I thought it was essential to try to make it a live event, and we were blessed to be able to pull it off,” said Upper School Theatre Director Travis Guba. “The actors stayed positive, adhering to the stated guidelines but also making it seem natural. There were so many times that I would forget they were wearing masks! They were that committed. I was proud of their work and their tenacity throughout the process. I think the cast was grateful to spend time together and collaborate. Our veterans welcomed the new players to the stage, introducing them to old traditions and then making new ones.”

For Tysinger, the dress rehearsal revealed challenges to overcome for the technical crew. “One of the fun things we learned during our dress rehearsal was that wind was going to be a bigger force than we anticipated,” he said. “The crew leapt into action with their problem-solving skills, and we were able to batten down the hatches for the remainder of the run. Aidan Karsten and Josh Guhl secured our plants by adding guides to them and securing them to the stage, and Walker Smith did some quick programming to help reduce wind noise in the actors’ microphones. That team effort and collaborative spirit are what I love the most about theater.”

The weather was certainly on the play's side on opening night. The students performed under the stars and among the elements. “It was vital for us to offer the performance opportunity to our students, yet it was equally as important to mitigate risk to the highest extent,” said Chelsy Beninate, Director of Fine Arts. Sanitizing chairs in between scenes, creating masks for the actors by taking photos of their faces and imprinting them on cloth masks, and ensuring that our audience wore masks, sat in assigned seats and socially distanced made us feel that we were doing all we could for the safety of our community.”

“Providing an experience for live theater during a pandemic was both a challenge and exciting,” Beninate continued. “ While we hope to return to our world as we once knew it, we have learned that performing outdoors will be something we will not abandon in the future.”

The cast and crew went on to perform three more times: October 15, 17 and 18.

“It has been important to us in the Theatre Department to do everything we possibly could to achieve live performances,” Tysinger noted. “I love that we are always pushing ourselves.

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Fort Worth Country Day (FWCD) is a JK-12 private, independent, coeducational, nondenominational college-preparatory school located on approximately 100 acres in Fort Worth, Texas. The mission of Fort Worth Country Day School is to foster the intellectual, physical, emotional, and ethical development of capable students through an academically rigorous college preparatory program that integrates the arts and athletics.