When only four students showed up to audition for a winter production, Riddle High School Drama Club advisor Marty Follose almost called it all off.
But then he reconsidered.
“When only these four showed up for auditions, I was this close to saying forget it. But then I thought, no. Three of them I have worked with many times and I had just started working with (Angel Avila) and I thought, those two are seniors and if they don’t get a play in the spring, I don’t want them to get nothing out of something they have been apart of for the last three years or more. No, these are the kids I want to do something with.” Follose said. “I thought, no, I need to do it for these guys.”
Peyton Miller, Madison Hold, Samantha Linton and Angel Avila have fully embraced the hard work and adaptability required of putting on a play during COVID-19. So much so that when Follose asked if they wanted to do a second, shorter play, the group eagerly agreed.
“The Trial of Santa,” the group’s first holiday pieces, is a 25 minute play that puts Santa on trial for breaking and entering, theft of milk and cookies, defamation of character and use of slave labor. A variety of characters, all played by the four students (and a small part for Follose himself), work to either keep Santa in jail or set him free.
The production was supposed to be performed live for Riddle Elementary School students, but restrictions and closures due to the coronavirus squashed those plans. Instead, Follose is using technology to share his students’ talent. This includes not only recording the play, but using a green screen to transform the elementary gym stage into an actual courtroom with more than just a few prop.
“We’ve never done anything like this before. Just plays on the stage. We haven’t filmed anything before,” Hold said. “It’s harder, for me, because we have to readjust the camera and the lights all the time. And we don’t have to memorize our lines fully, which means we mess up a lot more.”
“I personally think filming is easier,” Miller said. “We can actually mess up, because we can just do another take. A lot of times, when you’re on stage and another actor messes up their lines, you have to jump in there and come up with something on the fly. With filming, we don’t have to do that because we can just reshoot it.”
When production wrapped on the first play, Follose came to the group with an idea for a shorter piece. Thus, work began on “The Christmas Eve P.I.,” which follows a little girl named Hailey as she reads “Twas The Night Before Christmas” and investigates if Santa is real.
“All the things that could go wrong, go wrong. It’s a play within a play — or actually, a film within a play. They are trying to put on a play and things go wrong,” Follose said. “They are rather inept. At one point, she is talking about the stockings and she looks over and there are no stockings, so they have to hurry up and put a stocking up.”
Both plays gave the students the chance to play multiple characters, something that was also relatively new to them. In fact, the back and forth between the judge and Santa in the first piece, which miller plays both of, is his favorite part.
“I get to yell at myself. It’s so awesome,” Miller said. “I liked them both, but it’s two different plays. One is a little more serious and the other is just comedy.”
The students were mixed on which play was their favorite, but all of them agreed that it was the overall experience that made everything worth it.
“It’s fun filming, but to me the most fun part of this whole thing is what happens off camera,” Hold said “Like whenever they are laughing at me because it took me 18 times to do one line. You are guaranteed to laugh at least once per practice.”
“The Trial of Santa” will premier on the Riddle School District Facebook page at 7 p.m. Thursday. “The Christmas Eve P.I.” will follow at 7:30 p.m., and the whole event rounds out with a question and answer session with the cast held via Zoom at 8 p.m.