Wilton High theater returns to indoor shows this fall to find ‘normalcy’

WILTON — The high school theater department will return indoors this fall for its production of “Peter and the Starcatcher,” set to span five shows.

This production, scheduled for Nov. 10-13, follows a spring offering that was set up completely outdoors to allow students some freedoms from COVID-19 restrictions, including being able to rehearse and ultimately perform without masks and to field a live audience. The department also streamed live performances from inside the theater last year while wearing masks and with no live audience.

This fall, director Kevin Slater said the streaming aspect will not be utilized again and the student thespians will be able to perform live in front of their loved ones — albeit in a smaller setting.

“We will be performing at half capacity,” Slater said while prepping for the show. “It will be pretty small for us, as it is happening in the Little Theatre.”

Wilton High School’s Little Theatre has a full capacity just under 300 seats, Slater said. Each performance will field under 150 audience members.

The play will feature 23 cast members and a dozen crew and tech members. The director expressed excitement with the uptick in participation this year following a two-year downturn.

“This year, the turnout was a lot better than last year,” Slater said.

Some of the cast have taken notice, too.

“This year is certainly different than last year,” said sophomore cast member Illeas Paschalidis. “First of all, the cast is not seven people. Last year, our cast was cohorted and less people auditioned, resulting in my cohort having only seven people and every role being double, if not triple casted, which was fun but a lot of work.”

Rehearsals have also been upped this year.

“(Last year,) we had two to three rehearsals a week, which was manageable with such a small cast, but now, we have a massive cast and are called in three hours a day, four days a week,” Paschalidis said. “It’s definitely a commitment.”

Paschalidis said he has missed other club meetings at times due to his theater committment.

“It’s also hard to find time for homework amongst it all, but I get it done,” he said. “Still, it’s a lot of fun, especially with all my friends in it.”

Slater said the students “are resilient” and are working through all of the restrictions faced moving back indoors to put on a performance they can be proud of.

All student cast and crew members will be masked throughout the rehearsals and performances. Slater explained that this is still a regulation that needs to be adhered to and, in his talks with other theater directors across the state and region, anecdotally estimated this may still be affecting numbers for many theater departments.

“We brought back indoor performances to bring more regularity,” Slater said.

The on-stage actors will be wearing clear masks to allow audience members to read their facial expressions and mouths during dialogue. Slater said one thing he is stressing during rehearsals is projecting.

“Despite the masks, we return to some degree of normalcy. It’s nice being able to do read throughs in person and not over Zoom, or only be with people who’s last name are on the same side of the alphabet as yours,” Paschalidis said. “I’ve had a great time and can’t wait to put on the show.”

Atlthough the theater is smaller, Slater said students may have grown comfortable with having microphones to catch their dialogue while shooting with TV cameras to stream their performance online. Now, the troupe is back to traditional theater, where they must project their voice loudly and act to the audience, not to the cameras.

The performance will also utilize digital music tracks instead of an orchestra, as it is more traditional theater and not a musical, although it does have one musical number.

In the final days of preparation, Slater said he could see the eagerness of the students and excitement to get back to something that feels more, “for lack of a better term,” normal.

“They seem to be loving the interaction with each other. Yes, it does feel more normal,” Slater said. “And we are back to putting on a show, and that really feels more normal.”