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South Jordan Journal

Bingham High theatre directors taking creative approach during COVID-19

Nov 05, 2020 12:44PM ● By Julie Slama

Bingham High theater students plan to hold a screening of their recorded performance of “Hamlet” in December. (Screenshot by Jason Purdie/Bingham High)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]


That’s one thing that Bingham High theater students are learning.

First, their school, along with others in the state, was put on soft closure last spring in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and many student-actors lost out on competing at state and performing in their final shows.

Then, their longtime directors moved on, and they were introduced to two new directors, who rearranged the season to better comply with safety precautions. And to top it off, one of those directors was quarantined for a period during their rehearsals.

“We haven't had any students quarantined so far, but if ever someone gets quarantined that is involved in the current or next week's shooting schedule, we would just choose different scenes (until) we get our quarantined actors back, said Bingham theater co-director Jason Purdie, who was quarantined late September and early October after he was exposed to someone who tested positive. 

Purdie is directing “Hamlet” with students this fall, a change in the typical season line-up from producing a fall musical.

Brittany Anderson, who is Bingham’s other new theater co-director, said the reason was to keep in mind the limited crowd size. 

“We are swapping our musical and play around, so the fall will be the play ‘Hamlet,’ and it will be filmed and shown in December,” Andersen said. “Right now, we’re limited in seating to 25%of our auditorium size. With the musical, we’d like more people to attend, so we’re hopeful that can happen in the spring.”

Purdie is directing the filming of “Hamlet,” which its screening is slated for 7 p.m., Dec. 10–11 in the Copper Pit at Bingham High.

“We are shooting it like a legitimate film and giving the students the opportunity to learn a new skill: acting for film. Students that don't want to be in front of the camera can be behind the scenes,” he said, adding that they will learn editing, camera operation and production assistant skills. “We just take it one day at a time and are flexible with the dates we'll be screening the film for audiences. We already have some great footage.”

Keeping COVID-19 guidelines in mind, Bingham’s cast is limited, and rehearsals are held in small groups.

“Each actor has their temperature taken every day before rehearsal and filming,” he said. “Actors are required to wear masks on set until we actually shoot the scene. Once the scene is shot, masks go back on. We keep them as far apart from each other as possible when not filming. Directing actors that are wearing masks is definitely challenging when you are trying to see the honest emotions of the characters, but I've learned that you can tell a lot just by what you see in their eyes. When they take their masks off to shoot the scene, I can see if there is anything that needs to be adjusted. And at that point I can give them extra direction for additional takes. It has worked out very well so far.”

While Purdie was quarantined, student actors worked on memorization and others continued to design and find costumes.

“Working on a project like this teaches everyone involved how to be flexible and work together to solve problems,” he said.

Part of their show, performed by Theatre 4 students, was submitted in the annual high school Shakespeare competition, held virtually this year, as their ensemble piece along with some Theatre 3 monologues and scenes. Participating in the Shakespeare competition is a tradition for the Miners.

“I love Shakespeare and the competition is a great opportunity for kids to explore, understand and fall in love with his works,” he said, adding that he is disappointed students aren’t able to watch other schools perform. “There is so much you can do with Shakespeare. I love to play with the time periods and settings and make them more accessible to high school students and audiences.”

In fact, Andersen said it was while she was student directing “Hamlet” at Brigham Young University that she met Purdie.

“He’s absolutely brilliant with Shakespeare, having studied it at Oxford and has an incredible talent for interpreting his works,” she said. “When I saw there were two theater openings at Bingham, I said, ‘Hey Jason, do you want to apply?’ I didn’t know we were both going to get it, but it’s great to be working along someone who is talented and is a friend.”

After Purdie earned his bachelor’s of fine arts in acting and theater education from BYU, he studied at the Oxford School of Drama in England. He has taught for 10 years, including as an adjunct faculty member at BYU.

After Andersen earned her undergraduate degree from BYU, she continued to pursue her graduate studies while teaching the past 11 years and also having been an assistant principal.

Andersen gave the students their choice of four musicals for their spring show: “Newsies,” “Anything Goes,” “Grease” or “The Addams Family.” The latter was the favorite that was selected via an Instagram vote.

“The Addams Family” is scheduled for 7 p.m., Feb. 18–20 and again, Feb. 22–23. A 2 p.m. matinee on Feb. 20 also is planned.

“I’d like to have the show have a Tim Burton feel and update it stylistically,” she said. “It’s a great family show and talks about getting along with a teenager, so it’s a pretty relatable story.”

Andersen said she anticipates the cast will continue into the spring with completing health surveys and temperature checks, similar to athletes, as well as wearing masks in rehearsals to best ensure the safety of students.

“We don’t want to go through hours and hours of rehearsals and not get to perform,” she said. “That would just be heart-breaking.”