Putting together a musical in just a few weeks is already a huge challenge, but that task is made more difficult when weather complications and the spread of an illness arise. This was unfortunately the case with this year’s production of The Little Mermaid, with an ice storm hitting Bryan right before opening night and with at least 10 cast members out with COVID at some point during the rehearsal.
Senior Gabriel Gomez who played King Triton experienced firsthand the impact that COVID had on preparing for the musical.
“I got COVID in mid-January, during rehearsals,” Gabriel said. “It made things difficult because when you’re trying to run a scene, you need the actors there. If people are missing you don’t really get those interactions between the characters which also ends up hurting character development.”
Freshman cast member Christian Eddington, who played Prince Eric, also had COVID during preparation for the production.
“I got COVID around the middle of rehearsals when practice was starting to get serious, and I wasn’t able to come back until three days before opening night,” Christian said. “Lines and scheduling ended up being one of the hardest parts of the musical.”
The students weren’t the only ones affected by people being out. Theatre teacher Bailey Robert struggled to work around cast members being out.
“COVID definitely affected the musical, and we had a variety of issues,” Robert said. “Students would be out at different times, and some of our leads were gone, so we had to use students from all different roles throughout the rehearsal process. An ensemble member might have to step in for a lead character for a rehearsal so that we could see how the choreography worked, or technicians might have to play multiple parts backstage waiting for another technician to come back after being gone, so it was all hands on deck to accommodate for COVID.”
As if illnesses didn’t disrupt the production enough, an ice storm hit the night prior to the first performance, forcing the fine arts department to push the musical to a day later and do an extra performance on Sunday.
“I was kind of happy that I didn’t have to go to rehearsal, but another part of me was scared because before opening night it seemed like everything was falling apart at the last minute, but I think it got better,” Christian said. “I was really worried about whether we were going to be ready for the show.”Though the winter storm caused closure for the performance, choir director Alex Medlock found a silver lining.“It was a blessing in disguise,” Medlock said. “The cast and crew were in need of a break and when the delay happened we were flexible and moved with it. I think it ended up being better than if we had opened on the night we were scheduled to open.”
Robert agrees and believes the delay allowed performers to rest before opening night.
“It was definitely unexpected, and taking our opening night performance away was not ideal, but ultimately I think it helped our show,” Robert said. “It gave everyone a chance to rest and recover a little bit. We’d been working fast and furious since the beginning of January so everyone was really tired.”
Against all odds, when the musical opened on Saturday, February 5, it went off without a hitch. Though there were many complications in the production, Christian feels that the audience’s positive reception made the struggle worth it.
“My favorite part of the musical was the applause after I did a song, because it made me feel like all the hard work paid off,” Christian said. “The entire process made me feel very welcomed. This was my first time having a major acting role in a musical. The directors were amazing and very kind, and were great at working with beginners.”
Medlock agrees and commends the cast members for pushing through and giving a great performance despite the difficulties.
“My favorite part was the culture that the kids created in spite of the challenging circumstances,” Medlock said. “The kids were pretty amazing. It was so much work but the payoff outweighed the work in the end. Great work, great reward.”
With such a robust fine arts department that is busy throughout the year with their own projects, the musical allows groups to interact that normally would not have the opportunity to do so.
“One of the things I love about the Bryan High musical is the collaboration between choir and theatre,” Robert said. “We each have our own programs and a full season of shows and competitions and performances, but this is the time where our students really learn to collaborate creatively and have fun across the fine arts hallway.”
Though the performance alone was dynamic and impacted the audience, many felt the experience went beyond what happened on stage.
“My favorite part of working on this show was getting to have that Disney magic the entire time,” Robert said. “We like to do shows for different reasons and many times they have a deep, important message, but there was something about the comedy and the lightness of this one that I think everybody needed after a couple hard years.”