Lights! Camera! Live-Stream?

FSSA’s own production of Hairspray was live-streamed without an audience during its second-week run.

It’s much easier for people to disregard the validity of something when it doesn’t affect them personally. It’s a way to deflect from reality and keep them from popping the bubble with which they have surrounded themselves.

For Frank Sinatra School of the Arts (FSSA), the atmosphere remained more or less the same when the coronavirus hit. Everyone kept coming to school, midterm preparation was being put into motion, and the annual musical of Hairspray was gearing up for its closing weekend. The cast, crew, and pit, consisting of 97 students, had no doubts about performing its last four performances. 

By Thursday, March 12, tensions were high. Family and friends were asking if the shows were still happening; many were asking for refunds. In sixth period class, the company filed into the concert hall with the director Mr. Cacciola-Price (CP), Andre Vazquez, the principal Mr. Frankel, and the FSSA administrative staff.

It was announced that Gov. Andrew Cuomo suspended all Broadway shows and performances consisting of audiences larger than 500 people. Consequently, the school decided to cancel the remaining performances of FSSA’s Hairspray production. That night, the orange cast would be performing their last show for a live-streamed performance – with no one in the audience. Friday, the blue cast would be closing in the same way.

“It felt weird looking out into the audience at only a few people when you know it was supposed to be so much more,” said Logan Broadnax, an ensemble member in Thursday’s cast. “Hearing the cheers from a small group of teachers and staff kept the cast going that night. Also, knowing that the original Hairspray choreographer Jerry Mitchell was watching kept everyone at their A-game. “

The next day, was a whirlwind of emotions. At first, the cast was told that they would be doing a live-streamed performance at noon, in which every classroom would be tuning in. Then, they got word that they were granted permission to put on one last night show – a real closing performance. 

Shortly thereafter, the principal actors in the blue cast were called into Mr. Frankel’s office. They all thought they would be able to get tickets for their family members since the majority hadn’t even seen the show yet.

Walking into the office, they knew the news would not be happy. The teachers were sitting and wore solemn faces, while Mr. Frankel was standing up with his arms crossed. They were told that all school extracurricular activities including rehearsals, performances, and clubs were canceled. 

Despite what they were told earlier that day, the blue cast would not be able to get the final performance they expected. Instead, the school would be posting a blue cast performance from its opening weekend. The rest of the day felt odd. The senior rose ceremony felt even more bittersweet than usual. No one had the chance to fully grasp that they would never be performing the show again. 

After more than over 1,000 hours of rehearsal, NY1 media exposure, a CBS This Morning segment, and a FOX new clip, the production was snipped short before it fully grew.

Students didn’t know if they were saying goodbye for the weekend, the week, or the remaining school year. There were so many unanswered questions and too many feelings to process. It was then, that the magnitude of the coronavirus hit FSSA, and we all understood that daily life would never be the same. 

In retrospect, the cast is grateful for the important and unique experience they all have shared. Seniors Olivia Celis and Sofia Ares, who played Penny Lou Pingleton and Tracy Turnblad in the blue cast of Hairspray, agreed that having a great opening weekend, and the exposure of the live-stream allowed them to put a positive twist on things. 

“I was very glad that we were still able to put on a show through these difficult times for all families to watch in the comfort of their home,” Olivia Celis said.

“When I found out it was canceled I was devastated and I had never had such a horrible case of post-show depression. But I got through it because through all of that time and hard work, we had become a family and the whole company made me feel better,” Ares added. 

The experience of live-streaming the Hairspray performances, and seeing the number of people that tuned in, made the entire company proud. FSSA shared its experience with so many across the country and around the world. But, having the capability and technology to live-stream and document the show was such a special experience that shows the strength and resilience within Frank Sinatra School of the Arts. 

– by Maddie Greenberg ’20