By Thomas Picinich, Contributing Writer (‘22)
Additional reporting from Eve Nevelos, Editorial Staff (‘24)
After a year in the making, Indian Hills Theater Company was able to perform “Matilda.” IHTC was set to perform “Matilda” in April 2020, but the show had to wait when schools closed due to COVID-19. Despite COVID-19 restrictions and multiple school closures earlier this year, Ms. Kim Marino and the cast were able to present a spectacular performance with fantastic choreography, singing, and acting that had the audience on their feet with standing ovations on all three nights.
IHTC Director and Advisor Ms. Kim stated that a significant challenge was rehearsing with the lingering possibility that the show could be affected at any minute due to the unpredictability of COVID-related closures and quarantines. Although the school administration gave the production the green light, Ms. Marino still braced for the challenges that lay ahead, but her goal was to stay positive and prepared nonetheless. Ms. Kim and others stayed positive by thinking about how they are able to perform in person together. Many other high schools, including Ramapo, stuck to Zoom rehearsals and virtual shows completely. When students could not attend in-person rehearsal often due to contact tracing, she set up a virtual zoom rehearsal. She said the cast was “so dedicated and so hardworking that if they missed a rehearsal, they’re still prepared and ready to go.” She also mentioned that it was helpful that most of the cast was already familiar with “Matilda” because they rehearsed for it last year.
In addition to ensuring student safety by having virtual rehearsal options, the crew socially distanced themselves from each other and had masks on during rehearsals and the live show. Socially distancing, surprisingly, did not affect the cast and crew’s ability to work together or feel united because they knew each other so well. Natalie Ambrose, a Head of Tech, said, “We’re a pretty close-knit group…it’s been pretty easy to still have that bond and still continue friendships.” However, masks were a bit more of a challenge. While some initial hiccups were with the mics and the masks that the cast had to wear, they eventually worked around it. Some cast members had the wire for the mics run from their back, then up to their head and then down their hairline. While it was difficult for some to get acquainted with masks, many eventually adjusted to it. “You kind of don’t even realize the mask is there until afterward when you go offstage and you’re out of breath and you’re trying to cool down,” said Theresa Gharibo, who played Bruce. Even though masks had to be worn, everyone involved was happy to hear that they would have a live audience. Thanks to a seating chart and guidelines, a live audience was possible, and each cast member was allowed to invite three people for each show. Many were joyous about it, and one cast member commented how it was great to have an audience reaction in person.
The show rallied as many as 75 independent viewers each night, in addition to the 100 in-person audience on opening night, presented via YouTube. When reinterviewed during the opening weekend about how the Matilda cast overcame the challenges of the Coronavirus pandemic, Ms. Marino said: “The biggest challenge was the fear of the unknown. We never knew if COVID-19 cases would rise, potentially leading to the school needed to close for a period of time. We had many rehearsals with students who needed to quarantine due to exposure.” She continued, “We overcame it by staying positive and truly believing we would be able to have a live show. We would ‘zoom’ with students who needed to stay home so they wouldn’t miss anything during rehearsals. We worked together to make this show happen, and we were beyond thrilled on opening night that we DID IT!!!”
On closing night, many were relieved that it all came to fruition.
“To have this, it just felt like a gift that we had gotten and a sense of normalcy too,” said senior Erin Smith, who played Ms. Honey.
“This is very close to my heart. I’m never going to forget it because we literally, through a pandemic, did a musical,” said junior Chloe Fatuova, who played Nigel and Rudolpho.
“These kids are salt of the earth. Great group to work with… I’m proud of them. They’re like my kids,” said Ms. Kim.
“I’m very grateful that we’re allowed to finish out our show, that we’re allowed to finish out our senior year of the show unlike last year,” said Natalie Ambrose.
Bravo to Ms. Kim and the IHTC. Despite a pandemic delaying the musical, they were able to put on a one-of-a-kind performance that gave closure to many students. It’s a show that no one will ever forget.