Over a year after the COVID-19 pandemic forced Santa Barbara High School’s renowned theatre program to go dark, actors are finally returning to the stage. In both the first onstage production since the pandemic began and the first under the direction of new Theatre Arts teacher Justin Baldridge, SBHS students will summarize the whole canon of Greek mythology within a strict time limit. With each of the nine actors playing a multitude of roles and donning a plethora of costumes and props, the show has proved to be quite the production, a worthy challenge for Baldridge’s first outing. Baldridge in fact views himself as just part of a much larger team along with his student designers and technical director Talitha Blackwell. This show was selected with the pandemic in mind to provide covid-safe lightning-bolt speed hysterics for adults and students alike. Due to the coronavirus, there will be no live audience for the first time in SBHS Theatre history. However, the show will be streamed live each night for all of its 6 performances and tickets are available at SBHSTheatre.com. They are $12 for individuals and $22 for families.
The show begins as nine students enter a classroom, and one of them nonchalantly flips over an hourglass. The rest of them proceed to freak out as they hurry to cover all of Greek Mythology before the sand runs out. And I mean ALL of Greek Mythology, beginning with the creation of the universe, the war between the titans and the Gods, the introduction of the 12 great Olympians, and the creation of the humans. And that’s just in the first twenty minutes. As the name suggests, Homer’s epic poems also feature prominently. The Iliad which portrays the great battles between the Greeks and the Trojans and The Odyssey which details Odysseus’s 10-year journey home after the war make up the bulk of the show and are described in comedically rich detail. Other segments include a dating-show style account of Greek romances, and two teams competing for who can tell the more ridiculously tragic story. Other than a quick intermission after The Iliad, the performers never take a break from telling these hilarious stories during this 99 minute marathon of a show.
To ensure the safety of everyone involved, the show will be performed with masks and social distancing. Theatre is a particularly difficult format to meet these requirements, so this production has been a learning process for everyone. Namely, actors usually rely on facial expressions to communicate their intention and emotions to the audience. Throughout the rehearsal process for this show, however, Baldridge says he has had to focus on getting actors to fully inhabit their bodies. This is a particularly important skill in comedy, especially character-based comedy, where distinct physical personas count for everything. Furthermore, the staging has been created to allow actors to remain six feet apart at all times. Baldridge said that at first, this proved difficult for the student actors in connecting to their scene partners, but over time as students got more used to the format, and just being back in person doing theatre, it began to click. Characters developed, relationships emerged, and the comedy of the show took over.
As the first major production in the new era of Santa Barbara High School Theatre, Baldridge has put a specific emphasis on the role of student designers. Long before actors began rehearsing in January, designers were already planning the show in November and December. As director, Baldridge says he simply views his job as “uniting everyone.” It is then the job of costume, set, and prop designers to figure out how to implement the initial vision into a cohesive show. In this way, ideas flow from everyone on the team. For example, early in the process, Baldridge decided he wanted to use students giving a presentation in a classroom as a framing device. The student costume designers, Malia Hubbard and Lulu Marsetti, then came up with the idea of having each student’s outfit and personality fit into a specific archetype. For example, Elizabeth Throop plays the loud theatre kid, with her “I can’t, I have rehearsal” shirt. Baldridge also worked with student scenic designer Anisa Saleh to create the atmosphere of a classroom, with whiteboards and desks, while also serving the drama of the stories with balconies and pillars. All of these elements blended together to create a show that is uniquely SBHS.
Theatre all around the world has been disrupted as much as any industry by the Covid pandemic. From Broadway to high school, curtains have been drawn and seats have been empty. But following strict guidelines, SBHS theatre students are once again able to perform. It has certainly been a strange year for theatre, but this year has made Baldridge hopeful for the future of the theatre arts program with the new rigorousness of his theatre classes, the foundation of the Theatre Arts Club, and the success of this production. He is ready to hit the ground running next fall, specifically saying that this show has served an important role in “laying down the foundation, that as a teacher and a director, I focus more on the process, then on the necessary outcome.” As the pandemic begins to subside, Baldridge is planning his season for next year, including the return of SBHS’s iconic musicals.
The Iliad, the Odyssey, and All of Greek Mythology in 99 Minutes or Less opens this Thursday! The talented cast will perform via live stream on April 8th, 9th, 10th, 15th, and 16th at 7PM, and April 17 at 4PM. Tickets are available at SBHSTheatre.com. This show is sure to delight lovers of Greek Mythology, supporters of SBHS theatre, and anyone just looking for a moment of levity in these difficult times.