“To be, or not to be,” Theater Teacher Haila VanHentenryck said while holding her cat up to the camera in the Horace Mann Theater Company’s (HMTC) third Variety Show. The pre-recorded video showcased various students’ talents, including songs, short films from VanHentenryck’s Acting for the Camera class, and poetry recitations.
Unlike past Variety Shows, participants did not have the option of performing live over Zoom, VanHentenryck said. Instead, they submitted recordings of their performances, which HMTC Co-president Sarah Taub (11) compiled into one video. In order to create a more personal environment, Taub included recordings of herself introducing each student before their performance, she said.
As the co-advisors of HMTC, VanHentenryck and Manager of the Department of Theater, Dance, and Film Studies Jonathan Nye suggested edits for the recording of the show before it premiered. Except for these edits, the show was an entirely student-led initiative, VanHentenryck said.
Taub said she was responsible for organizing the show. In order to get students to submit their recordings, HMTC members sent emails to the student body with a sign-up form and description of the show, Taub said. They also publicized the event through the HMTC’s Instagram account, explaining that students could perform whatever they wanted.
“Many times, shows have a limited number of roles and only showcase a set of talents the performer doesn’t necessarily get to choose,” Taub said. “We wanted to create an event that gave the performer the freedom to show whatever they pleased.”
Bailey Hecht (10) has watched several Variety Shows and was impressed by the participants’ courage to share their performances with peers, she said. Hecht was also pleasantly surprised to see that many of the performers were not previously involved in theater.
For Jonathan Mong’s (12) covers of Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” and The Fray’s “How to Save a Life,” he worked on learning how to make his performance distinct from existing covers. “The goal, at the end of the day, is to create a song where, if you remove the vocals and pick a random section, you won’t know what song I’m playing unless there is something very distinctive,” he said.
However, for “Piano Man,” Mong did not change any aspect of the song, he said. After figuring out how to play each song, Mong practiced and worked on his renditions until he was satisfied with them. He also chose to perform in this Variety Show because it might be his last chance to perform at the school, he said.
Mekhala Mantravadi (11) submitted a video of herself reciting poetry for the show. Mantravadi has participated in a different Variety Show in which she recited poetry live. She prefers live performances because she can gauge the audience’s reactions, Mantravadi said. “In a live performance, you can’t press rewind, and sometimes that adds an aspect of spontaneity which I really enjoy,” she said. “Things are more surprising in a live performance for me but also for the audience.”
Although pre recording the show presented fewer technical issues than accommodating live performances, the show’s virtual format was still difficult to navigate, VanHentenryck said. But, when the audio stopped working before the show, VanHentenryck and Taub had time to restart the Zoom before the performance to fix the problem.
Theater Teacher Benjamin Posner, who helped plan previous Variety Shows, thought pre-recording the show allowed for more participation. “I think that there’s an element of excitement that you lose when there’s not as many live performances, but it also lets more people be a part of it,” he said.
For students who may be less comfortable performing live, the pre-recorded performance was a useful alternative, Taub said. Taub is new to organizing shows virtually, so pre-recording the show also made it easier to manage, she said.
However, she is still open to virtual live performances in the future. “Hopefully next year, our performances will be in-person and on stage,” she said. “But in the meantime, I think we made the best out of a strange year and still provided a creative space for those in our community who are passionate about theater and performing.”