A NIGHT TO SHINE, VIRTUAL OR LIVE
May 31, 2021 / Zoë Macgill
Talent Night is without a doubt the highlight of my year. To be honest, it has been since the first time I stepped foot onto the Steward stage as a tiny
second grader to sing “Tomorrow” from Annie. Since then, I’ve grown and evolved as a performer and watched so many other incredibly talented individuals do so as well alongside me. I’ve always loved being able to showcase the untapped adoration for music I’ve held since birth, as I’m the most in my element when I’m belting out the one melody I can’t get out of my head that month. Talent Night has looked a little different the past two times we’ve put it on because of the pandemic, but, at its heart, it’s still the same fabulous show I first fell in love with.
Mr. John McAlister has organized the shows for as long as I can remember and long before I came to Steward. He’s the man behind the magic, and it’s the highlight of his year too. As a small token of gratitude for all his hard work, I wanted to ask him some questions about the process so he could share his side of things as the director.
Z: How was this year's production different than last year?
J: The biggest difference between this year’s virtual talent night and last year’s virtual talent night is the very steep learning curve I did not have to go through this year. This year I was more prepared with deeper knowledge of Google Drive and video editing. During the process of putting together the first virtual talent night, I had to email for technology assistance for every little thing.
Z: What do you think of the virtual format?
J: I enjoy the challenge of the virtual format and the creativity it brings out in the students. I am always so impressed with a student that has video editing skills.
Z: In the same vein, is there anything you prefer to do virtually rather than live?
J: I enjoy seeing a well edited video, but I so much more prefer a live performance over a video performance. I only prefer a virtual video when the video production can produce something that cannot be performed on stage.
Z: Me too! There truly is no experience like being on stage. What are your favorite parts of the process?
J: My favorite part of the process is working with the students. I love fine tuning the acts when the students sign up for the show, and I love working with the emcees to explain the flow of the show. I really enjoy finding the best dad jokes each year for the emcees to choose from.
Z: I love the jokes!! Finally, what's been something particularly memorable about this year's Talent Night?
J: Every video that is sent to me just brings me such joy. I know the care our student performers have put into what has been sent in and it just makes me proud. Particularly memorable this year was how the quality of the student video production has improved.
Then I wanted to get some remarks from my fellow performers. One in particular that I had to talk to was Anya Bhargava, who has showcased her dancing prowess at the show with incredible routines for years. I’ve always admired her talent and she really came through in answering the questions I posed.
Z: What about this year's Talent Night experience did you enjoy? What did you not enjoy so much?
A: I really liked the beginning of the video where Mr. McAlister showed the empty Cramer Center and the MCs introduced themselves. The usual jokes made the entire virtual experience feel as close as possible to an in person event, and I really appreciated that!
Z: Although it may seem like a given, do you prefer in-person or virtual Talent Night?
A: I definitely prefer in person Talent Night. With that said, I do enjoy the perks of having a professional video of all the routines and having the flexibility to watch Talent Night whenever is the best time for me. That feeling of actually performing on stage is like no other, but I'm grateful for the way in which the Steward community has been able to adapt to the restrictions brought upon by the pandemic.
Z: Since you've done Talent Night for a while now, what's been your favorite memory from any show? What is your favorite act you've done and why?
A: My favorite memory has got to be seeing some of the hilarious Lower School Talent Night acts. I remember George, Mike, and a couple other guys doing a really funny skit that I still remember to this day. As acts became more sophisticated, I've loved hearing some of the singers, like you and Hailey, as well as seeing other dance routines. My favorite act I've done is probably the first Indian dance I did in second grade. I remember being pretty nervous, because, despite having performed at huge crowds in the past, this was my first time on stage alone. However, despite my fears, I ended up having a lot of fun, and it was wonderful to share a part of my culture with teachers and friends. Not to mention, the applause and seeing my friends and teachers appreciate a new dance style was pretty cool.
Last but finally not least, I had to talk to my best music-making friend, the ever lovely Hailey Wharram! We’ve performed alongside each other—and more recently together—for years now, and she’s the first person I think of when I think Talent Night.
Z: What about this year's Talent Night experience did you enjoy? What did you not enjoy so much?
H: I loved the fact that I was still able to perform at all, especially since this is my senior year. In particular, I am so happy that I had the opportunity to perform not just one, but two of my original songs this year (one co-written with the amazing Zoe Macgill). I always love being able to share my work with others, even if only virtually. I am so incredibly glad I finally began sharing my original work last year, because it has truly made me a much more confident person.
Z: I feel the same way! Love you girl! Do you prefer in-person or virtual Talent Night?
H: I definitely prefer in-person Talent Night, because there is truly no feeling quite like live performance. Additionally, it is so easy for me, being the perfectionist that I am, to re-film over and over again in search of the elusive “perfect take” with the virtual format, which can honestly be kind of exhausting. I think live performance allows me to “let go” a lot more; feeding off of the audience’s energy as well as your own adrenaline during the performance is extremely liberating and exhilarating.
Z: I absolutely agree. Since you're somewhat of a Talent Night veteran at this point, what's been your favorite memory from any show? Favorite act you've done and why?
H: Although I have been performing in Talent Night every year since 2nd grade (10 years, WOW), the first time I ever performed in my now traditional style (just myself, a microphone, and my guitar) in fourth grade was particularly memorable. I was MC-ing that night, and when my turn finally came up, I was really nervous, but also incredibly excited. I sang “Our Song” by Taylor Swift (of course), and I can still remember my sheer joy when the audience began clapping the rhythm near the midpoint of the song. I felt like an absolute rockstar, and it was the first time I truly remember loving the feeling of being on stage.
I’ve also loved performing with Zoe Macgill so much over the past three years. Our creative partnership has been so incredibly fulfilling, and I always love making music with her. Not to mention, Zoe is also just such a wonderful person with such a beautiful, kind soul.
And there you have it, folks! Talent Night may look a little different this year but it’s still got the same sense of camaraderie, love, and excitement. Check it out on Steward’s YouTube page! Thank you for reading! :)
Breaking a leg...virtually.
February 12, 2021 / Elise Gresham
Zoe Macgill ‘22 was ecstatic to play the part of Adelaide in Steward’s spring production of “Guys and Dolls.” She’s been doing theatre at Steward since the 2017 production of “As You Like It”, and this was her biggest role yet. When the COVID-19 outbreak hit Virginia, the Steward theatre department needed to change “Guys and Dolls” to a virtual concert. Macgill was crushed.
“It was really kind of like gutting disappointment,” Macgill said. “It was pretty awful.”
The transition from in-person to online school has been a drastic change. The theater program has undergone a particularly dramatic transition. Craig Smith, Steward’s lower and upper school acting teacher, and others in the theatre department still wanted to continue with productions, but there was the inescapable question of how it would be accomplished while abiding by CDC guidelines. While thinking about how to achieve his goal, Smith focused on students’ safety.
“We have to do something that is safe for everybody,” Smith said. “We also wanted to take time, since we’re having to do things differently, to try to do different works. So, instead of the season we announced, why not try an original student written production?”
Hayden Ashworth ‘23 wrote the play “On the Subject of Acquitting a Spirit” which Smith turned into a movie. Many students participated in the film, including senior Mara Beck. Beck was glad to have the opportunity to act in a production, but still missed the thrill of live theater.
“I think I’m happy that we’re trying to do something, you know?” Beck remarked. “I just wish it was different, but I feel like desperate times call for desperate measures. You kind of have to get creative when you’re in the middle of a pandemic.”
Smith focused on the innovative solutions other theatre organizations were implementing in order to perform safely. Steward decided on the idea of a movie.
“It's a pattern that has worked for other theater organizations,” Smith said. “What we're doing throughout this whole COVID pandemic is looking to see what other groups are doing and how they are successful.”
Smith also hopes this year has been a learning experience for students to learn more about themselves and their creativity, the differences between performing onstage and on film, and the joy in building community.
“They’re learning about their own creativity in being able to produce works,” Smith said. “I hope that all students will learn about the different ways of doing things on stage rather than on film. You know, some people say, ‘Oh, I want to go to New York and be on Broadway.’ Some people say, ‘No, I want to go to Hollywood and be on film.’ Those are two different animals, so I hope students see the difference between those two. I hope they’re also learning that part of the joy of doing a production, even when it’s online, is building and maintaining a community. I hope that everyone who is involved in the fall and winter productions still feels that connection with the people they’re working with.”
Beck not only misses performing live, but also the experience of being an audience member seeing live theatre.
“Something I miss with theater is going to see shows in person,” Beck said. “I miss the Altria season ticket thing. Hamilton and Waitress were some of my favorite shows that I got to see. It's just sad not being able to do that anymore. It was always a fun little thing we got to do on a Sunday night. Going to see live theater when you're in the theater community, you kinda know of everyone. It's a fun way to go and support your community.”
Smith has similar feelings as Beck, and feels that there is a drastic difference between watching movies and plays.
“Just the idea that I haven't had the chance to sit in an audience for a while is so strange to me. And yeah, I can watch all the movies that I want. I can watch all the shows streaming on Netflix that I want, but I'm by myself. I'm not with an audience of 50 people, a hundred people, a thousand people, wherever, you know, depending on the production. It's a totally different experience. As soon as it's safe, I'm going to be back in the theater seat. I know that.”
Macgill decided that the pandemic also has given her a greater appreciation for live theater.
“I didn’t realize how much I took the program for granted, because at first it was a huge leap from trying out for my first show,” Macgill said. “Then I kind of fell into it, and was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is my life now’. It was just so quickly taken away from us that it kind of hit me upside the head. This is a huge part of my life that I’m missing now.”
Macgill still has hope for her last upcoming year at Steward, hoping that there will be one last chance to take the stage and have another shining moment before she graduates, but still appreciates the program regardless of the outcome.
“No matter what happens, I’m so grateful for the experiences I’ve had in the program.”
How the Arts are Surviving the Coronavirus.
February 12, 2021 / Adhya Yaratha
In times of crisis, many people turn towards comfort. For each person that comfort is different, but during the Coronavirus pandemic some people’s forms of comfort have been altered.
The arts play a key role in many people’s lives whether it is through the fine arts, visual arts, performing arts, or others. Now, with COVID-19, many of these art forms have needed to find different ways of reaching people.
Since the pandemic, comfort has had to be compromised for safety at times. For dancers, that has meant wearing masks and dancing while socially distant. Though many dance academies have opened their studios for practice, many are still grappling with the conundrum of performances. Dancing requires togetherness and partnership. Because of social distancing mandates, this has made safe performances hard to implement. Though many studios are electing to solve this puzzle through careful planning, some are making the difficult decision of canceling performances.
Canceling performances takes a toll on the dancers, studios, and audiences. With so much uncertainty, performing is seen as a familiar respite for the dancers. By making the hard choice of canceling, the comfort of dancing is taken from them, like many other comforts this year. Many studios also struggle financially with the cancellation of performances as they provide a large source of income. For the audience members who pay to see the shows, the familiarity and joy of watching a live performance is gone.
Many studios, though, are navigating the world of safe and socially distanced performances. Although different, they are a way for dancers to continue to exhibit their skills for live audiences. With masks being a major component, dancers are finding ways to get back to a “new normal” of performing. When planning these performances, many studios are tasked with exploring the fine line between cautiousness and comfort, making this year so different from others. Some studios are delving into the world of Zoom performances. Whether that means the audience is watching from Zoom, or the dancers are dancing through Zoom, it is a new experience for all.
Here at Steward, the theatre department is finding unique ways to have shows during the Coronavirus pandemic. They recorded “On The Subject of Acquitting a Spirit” by Hayden Ashworth for the fall play, letting us enjoy their performances while staying safe. For the winter play they are planning "Zoom Macbeth: A Musical Parody." Though live performances are not possible under current CDC guidelines, the Steward theatre community is still finding creative ways to bring the joy of the arts to Steward families.
With so much changing due to COVID-19, the world has had to adapt in order to retain some familiarity in these unfamiliar times. By prioritizing creative solutions a semblance of normalcy can be found in these abnormal times.
April 27th, 2018 / Anya Bhargava
It was an ordinary Saturday in 5th grade and I was at my friend’s house. Her favorite show at the time was Dance Moms. She was watching an episode when I came over and I thought it looked interesting. The following day, I found the first season on Amazon and I’ve been hooked ever since. I binge-watched it all summer and by August, I decided that I wanted to take dance lessons. In the fall of 2014, I began dancing at Dance Destination. The funny thing is, I thought I was good. Thanks to five years of gymnastics, I was fairly flexible (which means I could do one split), but dance flexibility and technique are so different from gymnastics. However, even with the initial hardships, I began to fall in love with dance, slowly, but surely.
Now let’s flash forward to December of 2015. I had just joined my first lyrical class with less than eight people and a new teacher. The first day of class, two girls ran towards me excitedly and told me, “We are going to be BEST friends.” After that, I was a little freaked out and was going to tell my mom that I didn’t want to join the class, but then realized that it would be a good opportunity to get more practice time. As the year went on, one of those girls actually became one of my close friends, and the following year, we made the dance competition team together.
Eighth grade was a good year. After two years of working hard, I was so excited to make the competition team. The team required a whole new level of commitment and dedication. I went from dancing two hours a week, to dancing about 9 hours a week. That year, Chloe (the friend in my lyrical class) and I made a new friend, and the three of us have stuck by each other ever since. Not only did I have amazing friends and great dance instruction, I also had the best teachers. They’re sweet, hardworking, and always believe in us. All of this put together has made my dance experience incredible. Those of you who are on any sort of team know how stressful it can be when you’re competing. At one of our competitions, we were backstage and one of the girls in my dance realized that she forgot her costume. Immediately, she started panicking, called her mom, and left to go get it. My teacher was also extremely stressed and was scared that she wouldn’t be back in time. Unfortunately, the girl didn’t come back in time for the dance and she felt so guilty in the moment, but now we laugh about it. Unforgettable memories and experiences like these make it all worthwhile.
Lastly, this year. This year has been the most hectic year ever. I added even more hours to my dance schedule, more difficult classes, and many new clubs. Despite my packed schedule, I have continued to love dance, and I hope to do it for many years to come. A few days ago, the girls at my studio found out that the owner was moving and we were shocked! Later, we understood why, and we are very happy and excited for her! However, the shock still hasn’t worn off, and it has made me realize how much I cherish the dance community. A community I am fortunate to be apart of. In the next few months, many girls from our studio, including myself, are on a search to find a new studio.
This new studio will never replace the first one, but now it is time to start a new chapter of my dance life.