The show adjusts and goes on

By Bill Althaus

Lights! Camera! Masks – action!

Welcome to the new COVID-age world of theater at William Chrisman High School in Independence.

Rather than postpone or cancel her first opportunity to direct a play at her new school, theater teacher Brooklynn Wattenbarger chose a different path.

Joseph Bartosick, left, and Taylor Johnson, second from right, interact with their new classmates Rebecca Stutzman and Zachariah Watson, who play teens who have artificial intelligence, in William Chrisman High School's production of 'Nothing is the End of the World, Except the End of the World.'

“I really think we selected the perfect production for the times we’re living in right now,” said Wattenbarger, a recent graduate of Northwest Missouri State University, “and I don’t know if I could possibly be working with a better group of students.”

The play is “Nothing is the End of the World, Except the End of the World.”

It takes place in the not-so-distant future when a New York City charter school is the first to welcome artificially intelligent students, Godfrey and Olive, played by Zachariah Watson and Rebecca Stutzman.

Olive (played by Rebecca Stutzman) and Godfrey (Zachariah Watson) are two teenagers with artificial intelligence and are introduced into a junior high school class in New York in William Chrisman High School’s production of ‘Nothing is the End of the World, Except the End of the World.’

The two new AI students receive a lukewarm welcome and are greeted with suspicion and disapproval by their unhinged junior classmates.

Suddenly, a reality television crew arrives and a tinderbox situation explodes. Students must find out on their own what it means to be human and how technology can take us places we might not want to go.

“It’s an unusual play and one that everyone is working hard on – especially since every member of the cast must wear a mask,” Wattenbarger said. “I never realized that acting is actually about 50 percent of the face, and half of our actors’ faces are covered with a mask, so they are doing a tremendous job of showing what their character is going through and experiencing even though you can only see their eyes.”

Watson is enjoying this challenge.

“Because I am wearing a mask, I am having to build on my different acting skills,” the senior male lead said. “I’m using my voice, my eyes, my body action – anything I can do to bring my character to life, and we’re about a week away from our first performance and I feel like I’m almost there. I almost have my character down to where I am pleased with my performance.”

Stutzman said it took her a while before she felt comfortable rehearsing with the mask.

“It was certainly unexpected to be wearing a mask in this amazing play, but I’m feeling more comfortable,” said Stutzman, who is also a member of the Bears dance team that performs at sporting events.

She found out she had been selected as Olive the night the Bears football team beat Truman for the Wagon Wheel Trophy, which is presented to the winner of that longtime rivalry.

“That was quite a night,” she said. “Our biggest football game, and I was totally surprised when I  found out that I was going to be Olive. So, when I found out that we were going to be wearing masks, I went back to dance and thought about how we wear masks dancing, but they don’t take away from our performance.”

“Working on a play while battling with the restrictions of COVID-19 have certainly proved to be a challenge, specifically with projecting and portraying the correct tone with my lines. Not to spoil any of the show, but as the story progresses and my character, Olive, is supposed to show more emotion to then reveal that she's part human, I have to focus on the expression of my eyes and my voice a lot more than before.”

“Especially having previous performance and theatrical experience, it's a weird shift to have the bottom half of my face covered. You never really know how much the bottom half of your face expresses until it's covered. While I respect the guidelines that come with being in a pandemic, I look forward to being able to perform without a mask sometime in future. Nonetheless, I keep a positive mindset towards the challenge. I see it as an opportunity to grow as an actor and show how grateful I am to still be a part of theatre at William Chrisman.”

The first-year teacher says she is blessed to have a cast and crew up for any challenge.

“This job, this school, our cast and crew – they are a blessing,” Wattenbarger said. “I believe Truman and Van Horn are livestreaming variety type shows, but we’re doing our show live for about 170 audience members.”

“Being a first-time director is a challenge. Being a first-time director in the age of COVID, where you cast and crew are wearing masks, is an even bigger challenge, but everyone is excited and up for the challenge and we’re all looking forward to opening night.”

Nothing is the End of the World, 

Except the End of the World

William Chrisman High School’s fall play

Nov. 12-14, with performances at 7 p.m. Nov. 12, 13 and 14 with a 2 p.m. matinee Nov. 14

Tickets are $5 and are available at the school

All cast and crew will be wearing masks. All audience members must wear masks.