Frights and delights


Emily Salzhauer and Serena Bai

On October 30, the Horace Mann Theatre Company (HMTC) put on a devised theatre production titled “’Twas the Night Before Halloween.” It was a series of eight vignettes inspired by fear in the world around us, AJ Walker (11), the assistant director of the show, said. 

Devised theatre means that the plot of the show is developed by all of the cast members, theatre teacher and director of the show Haila VanHentenryck said. “It’s actually a very democratic way to make art,” she said. “One person’s ideas are not more important or more valued than another’s.” Some parts were cut from the original script, but everyone worked together in the editing and filming process.

The vignettes had little in common besides the running theme of fear, cast member Athena Spencer (10) said. Spencer was in two of the eight vignettes, and she directed another. The first vignette she was in was about a group of friends locked in a room who have to find their way out. Along the way, they learn that all of them dislike one another, she said. The second vignette Spencer was in was a parody of a commercial, she said. It was about three friends at odds with each other in a cemetery on Halloween: one of them wants to go home, and the other two think that they’re in a horror movie. Spencer also directed a vignette about three strangers who are put in a breakout room together during online school, where they open up to each other about their deepest fears, she said. 

“As an ensemble, we had to constantly work against our own fears in order to get the work done,” she said. “As we learned, fear is good, but too much can be paralyzing.” 

Last week, every advisory watched the trailer for the show to raise awareness about the production and garner a larger audience. “We are doing wonderful, magical things down here in the basement and oftentimes, no one knows about them,” VanHentenryck said. Stage manager Tess Abraham (12) was the editor of the trailer. “From that moment on, it really was her genius creation, and I can take no credit,” VanHentryck said. 

Abraham’s role as editor entailed adding audio and trimming down clips, she said. Abraham’s main goal was to recreate the humor seen on “The Office,” a popular TV show, she said. She compiled some of the clips that were taken at rehearsal to create the trailer, she said. 

Given the school’s two week quarantine in mid-October, students began their rehearsals online, Walker said. Cast members who were learning remotely were able to Zoom into regular rehearsals, he said. At in-person rehearsals, the cast followed strict COVID-19 guidelines, VanHentenryck said. Cast members wiped down each surface after touching it, did not share costumes or props, and did not sing in rehearsal, she said.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the cast collectively decided that a pre-recorded show streamed on Zoom would be the safest way to perform, VanHentenryck said. 

“I had never done a devised production before, and I think I learned a lot from the writing process,” Spencer said.

Although the students decided pre-recording the show was the safest option, the experience was still very different from that of performing live for an audience. 

The biggest difference between a live audience and a virtual one is the inability to see the audience’s reactions as cast members were performing, Juliette Shang (11) said. “Part of live theatre is having the audience to read off of, and we don’t get that on Zoom,” Walker said. 

“Some major advantages is that pre-recording scenes allow the actors to not have to memorize all their lines,” Shang said. “However, overall, I prefer performing in traditional live shows, since I feel like I can perform better and feed off of the audience’s energy,” she said.