The arts return amid a pandemic

Published 6:09 am Thursday, April 29, 2021

It had been more than a year since the COVID-19 pandemic had shut down the Franklin High School Theatre, but the theatre sprung back to life last week with the school’s production of “In the Forests of the Night” by Del Martin.

“I missed these kids a lot when we were not together,” Franklin High School Theatre Director/Producer Teri Zurfluh said. “It’s really powerful to be back.”

She noted the theatre department managed to put on a play in March 2020 just before the pandemic hit the area, but a show had not gone on since then until April 22 of this year. 

For three consecutive nights last week, citizens in Franklin once again had a reason to go out for an evening’s entertainment, and Zurfluh and her young cast and crew once again had the creative outlet they love.

“I think people are just hungry to come out and see something, and we don’t want to just be something,” Zurfluh said April 23. “We want them to walk out and go, ‘I’m so glad I took the risk, I’m so glad I came out tonight,’ and we’re hearing really great feedback. We had a great dress rehearsal with staff on Wednesday and then a great opening night last night.”

She noted that Franklin City Public Schools recently made a major investment in the theatre, purchasing an entirely new sound system and lights system and all-new stage curtains.

“This is our first show that we’ve been able to use all the toys, so it’s another reason this show is really powerful, because it did allow us to showcase a lot of that investment in the arts,” Zurfluh said.

She praised her students, who she noted both act and help run the production.

“I would do anything for them,” she said. “I am more happy than anything that they — especially these seniors — get to be on this new stage with all the toys before they graduate.”

She said it means the world to her that she can give students that opportunity to be in that fun space and really experience it and be back together again.

Senior Lizzy Granger, who is a veteran of the program, said it was difficult to see the pandemic shut down all theatre opportunities last year.

“I actually got COVID in December,” she said. “All my family had it, my mom had it the worst, so that was kind of difficult to watch.”

She said she and her family are all doing fine now, though, and she was excited to be back on stage putting on a play.

“It feels great, especially hearing from the teachers and students actually excited and looking forward to our plays now,” she said April 23. “That feels amazing because usually we don’t have that many people in our audiences when we do our plays, and yesterday, we had a lot of people that I was not expecting, and I just felt good having fans.”

The play was the first for freshman Annabelle Barnes, and she found it to be a major source of comfort amid the pandemic.

“It’s definitely helped me cope with a lot of stress, because when you’re acting it’s not real life, it’s fantasy that you don’t have to deal with,” she said. “It’s something that I can escape to.”

Sam Stith is a Franklin student who serves as the production’s sound technician, and he said the opportunity to be able to put on a show felt great.

“It feels like I’m accomplishing a lot, because this is mainly what I want to go to college for right here,” he said, gesturing to the complex sound board he operates during the play.

“In the Forests of the Night” served as a particularly COVID-friendly production, Zurfluh stated, as it has only two scenes where all 13 actors are on stage at any one time.

“It’s mostly done in pairs,” she said. “And then I did all the blocking to make sure that it was safe for them.”

The biggest difference in preparation was that for every single rehearsal until the week before the performances, actors wore masks.

“They also could not clump up and gather together like theater kids do, so when they were in here, unless they were siblings or living in each other’s homes, they had to stay six feet apart. So we did all the social distancing,” Zurfluh said. “Our custodial staff here was beyond great, because every time we touched the stage or sat out here, they’d come in at night when we were done and cleaned everything — every night.”

As far as the audience is concerned, they were screened with questions and a temperature check before entering, and they were required to wear masks.

“We’re at 30% capacity, which is roughly 100 here,” Zurfluh said while inside the theatre, noting that families could group together and just had to put three seats of separation between groups.

Zurfluh and the department are already rolling on to their next production, hoping to put it on before the school year is finished.

“This is definitely the beginning of a new generation and a new wave of time for this program, and I just can’t thank the school system enough for supporting the arts, especially in this time,” she said. “The arts is the first that goes, and the fact that they went the opposite way when everything was kind of dark and scary and made the investment in the arts, I think it says a lot for the system, and I’m certainly happy to be a part of it.”