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San Marcos High School ~ Santa Barbara, CA

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Mamma Mia! San Marcos Theater Department Preps for Upcoming Musical



After almost one year of quarantine and the mass spread of Covid-19, we have had to adapt to our current situation and find new ways to participate in our day to day normalities. Shannon Saleh and the rest of the San Marcos Theater Department has had a firsthand experience of thinking outside of the box to continue forward with the challenge of putting on a musical in the midst of a pandemic.

    As many know, a musical is filled with ensemble heavy dance scenes, romance, a constant moving plot, and to top it off, a huge audience for reactions to every twist and turn. So with the social distancing guidelines and the need for masks, how will all of these staple factors still be incorporated into a production? I got the chance to discuss with Shannon Saleh about the next musical at San Marcos, Mamma Mia!

    “We are currently planning a production for outside in the Greek Theater,” states director, Shannon Saleh. “The stage is really massive and allows for fresh air and spacing for the 26 performers. I will be ordering clear masks for performers if we are still required to wear masks then. We are also planning on recording some of the large group vocals to combat issues with singing in groups right now. In addition, Jonathan Mitchell, our set designer, is working to make spaces in our set that allow for individuals to be highlighted while allowing for spacing! Finally, as we stage the scenes, we are conscious of the need for space between performers which makes romantic scenes awkward but we are all making concessions right now, aren’t we?”

    Saleh then explains the experience of working with the lead roles versus the ensemble and how important it is that everyone is holding themselves accountable to learn their part and be attentive during each rehearsal. 

     “I haven’t been able to put the lead performers with the ensemble yet…we are in two different cohorts…but it is still awesome to be able to meet in person in cohorts,” said Saleh. “I am hoping as we move into red that we can put the entire cast in one place soon! It is a challenge to stage and choreograph because we are always missing some players but it’s better than not doing a musical at all!”

“Learning musical parts on Zoom is really just a guessing game for the teacher. Students have the resources they need, and our musical director, Mrs. Pantages is great about providing parts, teaching, and recording breakout rooms for practice, but ultimately, the onus is on students to listen, sing in their own rooms, and learn parts. Since we aren’t singing together, we really have no clue how our ensemble sounds or how well people know their parts. If students are doing due diligence, when we can meet and sing together, we’ll sound great. If not….it will be tricky.”

    One of the musical’s lead roles, senior Carson Pallad, also reflects on the online circumstances and how regardless, they have surely been moving forward.

    “It’s actually been working extremely well given the circumstances. Everyone seems to be understanding the material we’ve been taught. The online format definitely slows us down quite a bit, but we are still on track!” He states. “Holding a leadership role for the choral side of the group has allowed me to truly see the progress we have been making in a decent amount of time. Everyone is eager to learn and it shows in their hard work.”

Though it may be a fight to put on the best possible performance, there is always a bright side and a positive outlook. 

“If I had to look for a silver lining, it would be getting to spend time with a smaller group of students.” Saleh acknowledges. “My cohort is the acting cohort which means I get to meet with most of the speaking parts at once, talk through scenes, stage and work character. Normally, I feel bad doing this because 25 other people are waiting around in class working independently while I work with two or three players. Getting to concentrate on a single group means that I can focus entirely on that work and not have the other elements of costuming, tech, ensemble, etc. in the same space at the same time which can sometimes feel like a beautiful but chaotic circus.”  

    She then shares her ultimate goal that she hopes to convey through the upcoming musical.

     “Ultimately my goal for this production includes bringing joy to people: to performers by offering a chance to do something they love and miss, and to do it together and not alone in their rooms, to the audience to celebrate their people, maybe even dance along to some well loved music, and to re-enter a world that has been set aside as marginal in this pandemic. Art has not received its due in this time of isolation and the creativity, teamwork, emotional investment and shared experience that musical theater provides are things that make the human soul buoyant. We need performance art right now more urgently than we ever have. And I hope to provide that this spring with an amazing team of collaborators (Mrs. Pantages for vocal music, Mr. Kiyoi as music director, Jonathan Mitchell for all things tech, set design and lighting, and Renee Levy and Hannah Chilton as costumers).”

    Shannon Saleh has never failed to impress with her outstanding shows and performances. Even with countless obstacles thrown their way, her and the rest of the musical department have given us a prime example of how determination can shine through and continuously shine a bit of joy onto everyone watching. Be sure to keep an eye out for the upcoming shows and show your support for the fantastic San Marcos Theater Department! 

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Mamma Mia! San Marcos Theater Department Preps for Upcoming Musical