Despite the pandemic and all the changes it forced upon school life this academic year, “the show must go on” was the theme for Bay Ridge Prep’s Junior Thespians and Lower & Middle School Arts Coordinator Patti Veconi. Knowing that this year’s show would have to be something recorded for audiences to stream at home, Veconi and her student team began work months earlier than usual.
Starting with the annual Junior Thespian induction ceremony and showcase event, and working on a Zoom platform, the students experimented with rolls of green paper to create at-home green screens so that backgrounds could be dropped in during post-production. It worked well enough when it involved just a couple of students at a time on screen, but expanding it for a full Middle School play production presented more hurdles.
“We were plugging along with daily remote rehearsals, but it was tricky,” Veconi recalled. “Besides the various challenges from different home settings with different recording capabilities, different background noises, different computer and internet speeds and all the technical stuff, there was also a fair amount of Zoom burnout setting in.”
Doing anything in-person meant working around COVID-19 protocols that kept students in separate pods and limited indoor gatherings. However, after Spring Break, with COVID cases sharply declining in New York City and a higher comfort level of bringing students together outdoors, rehearsals shifted to in-person sessions on the green turf outside the 81st Street Building.
Over the years, Patti Veconi has written, produced and directed dozens of theater productions created for Lower & Middle School learners. Press the "play" button above to see some photos from previous shows.
“I can’t overstate what a victory it was to be able to work in-person,” Veconi said about the Middle School play rehearsals. “These kids had already done all the work of memorizing lines, developing character relationships and analyzing the script, so once they were able to get a sense of the physical dynamics between their characters, make real eye contact and block their scenes with meaningful staging, it was like we all remembered why we love theatre. It just felt like such a luxury to be together again.”
While outdoors worked well for rehearsing, it would not work well for recording the play due to street noise and sound quality. After consulting with the Head of School and the students’ parents, Veconi devised a plan to have the recording done indoors, with plenty of ventilation, distancing, masks and limiting the number of students together. Recording moved first to the auditorium and then to the gym stage, with both spaces being converted to green screen studio spaces.
Asked if her upcoming retirement was a factor in making sure the play happened this year, Veconi said no.
“I knew we could do it safely in some capacity and the kids really wanted to do a show, and frankly, we needed it, both the kids and me,” she said. “Working creatively on a project like this is why we do theatre to begin with – it’s incredibly satisfying. And when we are forced to be creative within boundaries – like this pandemic required – we can make art in unexpected ways.”
Veconi added that students have been creative all year in their writing, dance, art, and music.
“They are part of a whole renaissance in creative expression inspired by the boundaries of this pandemic,” she said. “I feel lucky to have been a part of that here in my last year.”
Watch the full production of "Chess Play" above.
This year’s Middle School production, “Chess Play”, is an imaginative telling of a famous chess game that was played in Italy in 1619 by Greco, one of the world's earliest chess masters. Audiences need not understand chess to appreciate the life and death drama between two warring kingdoms. When the King of Obsidia brings his court and army to the Alabaster Valley under false pretenses, a murderous plot is revealed and it is up to the clever members of the Queen’s Guard, to save their kingdom.
After sending out emails to the students about the schedule for the play and theater rehearsals, Veconi said one student wrote back confirming everything looked good and ended his note with the simple message, “This is going to be a great year!”
Now, after 15 great years at Bay Ridge Prep and over 20 years in education, Patti Veconi will retire this spring.