Sharing art while apart: Fisher Hall Gallery goes virtual

Rowan Mally and Max Chasin

As theater teacher Benjamin Posner sang the Toy Story classic, “You’ve Got A Friend In Me,” accompanied by a piano performance, the audience sat captivated behind their screens and flooded the chat section of the Zoom with encouragement and support. Posner’s performance was one of the many acts that entertained audience members last Saturday evening. 

Last Saturday, students logged onto Zoom at seven p.m., ready to watch singing, acting, poetry, and monologue performances in the first-ever HM Variety Show. The performance featured students from all different grades, as well as teachers and an enthusiastic 80 member audience. 

During the show, 14 performers displayed their talents, which ranged from singing to reciting poetry or monologues to acting, with narration from host Spencer Kahn (12).

The Variety Show was planned by Horace Mann Theater Company (HMTC) Co-Presidents Dylan Chin (12) and Henry Owens (11), as well as the rest of the HMTC leadership. 

  “We were brainstorming ways to keep the community engaged and interested in theater, and the idea of a talent show came up pretty quickly,” Jordan Ferdman (11), co-Publicity Officer of the HMTC, said. 

  The show was created to bring the student body entertainment, as well as feature student talent, Owens said. “We just wanted to do this fun event that anyone at HM could tune into that would showcase student talent and provide some entertainment when there aren’t many outlets for that right now.” 

Performing in front of friends can help to bring individuals closer together despite the distance between them, Posner said. “These moments where you can see your friends perform, even in a random Zoom call, [and] it helps to bridge that gap a little bit.”

In preparation for the show, a survey was sent out to the entire school to find students who wanted to perform, Owens said. HMTC leadership also reached out to Poetry Out Loud because they wanted more poetry readers to be featured, Owens said. 

  Preparation for the show also involved testing the Zoom webinar feature, Chin said. This feature allows panelists to show their screen and perform while members of the audience do not have their video shared. 

  Because the HMTC had never held a Variety Show online before, performers had concerns about what the outcome would be, Owens said. 

  Specifically, there was a concern of technological failure. “I was worried that my sound wouldn’t go through, that it would be delayed, that the computer would mess up my voice,” performer Luke Weber (12) said. “I just had a lot of technical concerns where I was very worried that something was going to go wrong.”

The performers came together for the first time to do a soundcheck on the night of the show when they rehearsed the last 10 seconds of each act and practiced transitions and cues, Alex Rosenblatt (10) said.

The show exceeded many of the audience members’ expectations. “The transitions between performers were great, Spencer as an emcee was fantastic, and all the performers were super good,” Dalia Pustilnik (10) said. 

Another positive aspect of the show was the varied performances. “We had a really good mix of talents, from music to the films to acting,” Kahn said. 

“I expected people to show different talents like singing; I didn’t expect all the poetry and I didn’t know there would be as many people that were going to perform,” said AJ Walker (10), who attended the show. 

During the show, audience members were able to use a chat function, which allowed them to send messages to the rest of the audience and the performers. “The comment section was very active throughout the performance, which was not something I had expected,” Owens said. 

“It was encouraging to watch people cheering me on and cheering each other on during their performances in the chat,” Rosenblatt said. “It added a very cool, very unique metric that we would not have had otherwise.”

Because of the success of the first Variety Show, the HMTC leadership said that they would like to have another Variety Show by the end of the year. “Next time we want it to be bigger, better, with more actors, different kinds of displays of performance,” Chin said. 

  The Variety Show helped unite the community together in a time of separation. “It’s hard to feel cohesive as a school community when we are not seeing each other, so I think this show was a great way to bring people together,” Owens said. “Overall, I couldn’t have asked for a better evening.”