Drama Department Cancels Winter Play to Produce a “Senior Spotlight”


Kai Yara

Senior Uma Misha performed in “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” in November 2021. Misha will also perform in “Senior Spotlight” this winter. “I’m sad that [“Senior Spotlight” is] not a traditional production because I think a lot of people would have enjoyed to do that, but I completely understand [Minning’s] reasoning,” Misha said. Photo Courtesy of Kai Yara.

Sonia Dholakia, Staff Writer

The Menlo Drama Department planned to perform the play “Cyrano de Bergerac” by Edmond Rostand this winter, but COVID-19 once again hindered their plans. Because of the omicron variant, Menlo has updated its COVID-19 policies. One of these changes is the suspension of large indoor events, such as the play. Instead of the play, the department will produce a “Senior Spotlight” to showcase the seniors involved with theater at Menlo. 

Upper School Drama Director Steven Minning realized the play was not going to be possible when Menlo moved to remote learning the first week after winter break. “It’s a very active show,” Mining said. The play involved sword fighting and action scenes, which required exertion and contact with other cast members. 

In addition to COVID-19 challenges, the audition date had already been postponed to after winter break. “We were just up to the wire as to how long it was going to take to rehearse and produce it,” Minning said. 

“Senior Spotlight” will be a filmed production, highlighting each of the five seniors who have chosen to participate. It will feature footage from their previous Menlo performances, as well as a monologue or song of their choosing that will be performed in the Spieker Center. A professional team will film and produce the performance, and the Drama Department plans to release “Senior Spotlight” on March 3. 

The Drama Department was optimistic about their live productions’ future after the fall performance of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.” “We felt like we were starting on the path [back to normal theater],” Minning said. “It was the first time [live] in Spieker, and I thought we were off to a really good start, and then [omicron] happened.” 

Minning then needed to select a new production, where only one unmasked person would be on stage at a time. Menlo’s updated COVID-19 policies ask students to wear N95 or equivalent masks at all times when indoors. This means that if multiple performers are on stage at once, they will all need to wear masks. In the past, Menlo performers wore clear face masks to show facial expressions, but the school now urges all students to wear more protective face coverings, like N95 and KN95 masks. Menlo also suspended large indoor gatherings, such as school assemblies. This change means the Drama Department can’t have a live audience at performances. “I knew we couldn’t have any large groups in [the Spieker Center], so I thought ‘Okay, this is probably going to have to be a filmed thing’,” Minning said. 

“The last two years have been really hard on theater. These years have been an opportunity to figure out a way to do every show different than normal,” Minning said. “[The seniors] have done nothing but roll with the punches,” Minning said. “Let’s offer them an opportunity to highlight them[selves] and [give them] a tribute.”

“I would have rather done a show that was with everybody, but I don’t think that was possible,” senior Uma Misha said. Misha has been involved with the Menlo drama productions since she was a freshman, and she will be one of the seniors highlighted in “Senior Spotlight.” 

Sophomore Amory Healy looks forward to watching Misha and the other seniors be recognized for their Drama Department contributions. “I love all the seniors that I’ve met in the theater department,” Healy said. “They are so amazing, so welcoming, so lovely. It’s really nice to have something to honor them.”

However, not all drama students thought only seniors should be highlighted for the winter production. “It was intentional prioritization of seniors based on our experiences in the Drama Department throughout COVID, but every class has had a negative experience [with COVID],” senior Claire Lenden said. “I don’t think that’s a reason to give us a whole show and not let anyone else perform.” 

Lenden has been involved in the Menlo drama program but will not participate in “Senior Spotlight.” “There are people who signed up to do a show, and we’re just not letting them do a show,” Lenden said. “That doesn’t feel right to me.” 

Freshmen, sophomores and juniors are unable to perform in “Senior Spotlight.” Instead, there are opportunities for them to be involved behind the scenes. “Senior Spotlight” is being filmed by a professional team, and non-senior students will be able to work with these professionals to learn about video production. 

“[Learning about video production] sounds like an interesting experience, but I don’t think it would be as rewarding as actually working with people in my grade,” freshman Noelle Lenden said. Noelle Lenden originally planned to participate in the play, but she is now unable to perform in the winter production. 

Healy had already cleared their schedule to participate in the play and decided to be involved tech-wise with “Senior Spotlight.” “I’m excited to [work behind the scenes] and be able to give our seniors a nice moment before they go off and do whatever they do after high school,” Healy said. 

The Drama Department has not previously produced a show dedicated to the seniors, but Minning has not ruled it out for future years. “We will still do three shows every year, with maybe a senior spotlight like this thrown in,” Minning said.

Despite the setbacks from the winter production, the Drama Department is moving forward with their current plans for “Matilda,” a joint Middle School and Upper School musical set to perform in the Spieker Center this May.