Fall play to be replaced by fall film festival

September 14, 2020 — by Apurva Chakravarthy and Anjali Nuggehalli

The drama department is looking for online alternatives to live performances such as last year’s Student Production event

Despite drastic changes from last year, new drama teacher Brian Ringsted has ambitious plans for future events.

With school being completely online this semester, drama department teacher Brian Ringsted’s first year at SHS has been anything but ordinary. 

After building the drama department at Leigh High School for eleven years and spending two years in Oregon teaching and working in theater, Ringsted came to the school with the goal of inspiring students and expanding the drama program.

Despite the challenges of a new school and going online, Ringsted is confident that he will expand the drama program. 

“With the pandemic, I think everyone’s expectations have been thrown out the window,” Ringsted said. “Instead, we all get to discover something new together, which will be hard, but ultimately really exciting.” 

With the help of former drama teacher Sarah Thermond, who is now teaching drama full time at Palo Alto High School, Ringsted is working to get to know the ins and outs of the drama department. Thermond, who is also Ringsted’s friend, is also helping him adjust his curriculum to still be engaging and interactive, even in an online setting.

For example, his drama classes have started the year with improvisational theater, a unit usually reserved for later in the year. 

“Doing improv on Zoom is weird and different, and it’s going to take a while to get used to,” Ringsted said. “But I’m teaching my students how to properly take and give focus, even in an online world.” 

Throughout the improv unit, Ringsted has also emphasized the importance of students feeling connected to one another. He hopes that team building and group exercises will build the trust that is so crucial to theater. 

Before going into the more technical aspects of theater such as characterization and film study, Ringsted wants students to feel completely free to be themselves.

“My hope for students is to learn to let go of the ridiculous insecurities that grip us,” Ringsted said. “Everyone desires to appear cool and not look dumb, but I’m trying to convince everyone that it’s OK to make mistakes.”  

Ringsted also plans to integrate an in-depth introduction to acting in all of his drama classes. While many of his students get acting experience through the fall play and spring musical, he wants to take this knowledge a step further. 

His goal is to dedicate a large portion of his class to studying the formal areas of acting that are often too time consuming to be taught during a show. These areas include learning how to tech plays, direct and write. This way, students will walk out of his class feeling not only more proficient as actors, but more confident around other people in general. 

He also hopes to introduce cinematography to his students, and focus on the artistry behind different shots, what their purposes are and the overall art of film.

Senior Francesca Fernandes, who has participated in all drama shows since her freshman year, said that the transition from Thermond to Ringsted has been really easy, saying that Ringsted has “ made really good efforts to connect with the drama department.”

“He strikes the perfect balance between being authoritative and getting things done and also allowing us to independently explore things for ourselves and have freedom,” Fernandes said.

Since the start of the new school year, most of the challenges Ringsted has faced have been issues that would have been easier to solve during in-person learning. 

Along with a shifted drama class curriculum, the drama department’s events will be significantly different this year.

Instead of the annual fall play, the drama program will be hosting a fall student film festival. After going through an interview process, participants will have the opportunity to write scripts, perform and manage the project’s cinematography.

Fernandes plans on participating in the fall film festival as an actress and possibly a screenwriter or director. She said that the event is a unique opportunity to get exposure to other forms of acting.

“In a traditional fall play, we could only be either techs or actors, but in the film festival, we can be directors, scriptwriters, editors or actors,” Fernandes said. “This way, everyone can explore a variety of roles in theater.”

Depending on what phase the school is in at the time, student directors participating in the festival will take their actors to specific locations and sound studios to film. If health regulations still do not allow group meetings, student directors can include family members in their project instead. 

“I really hope to get students involved in the greater community,” Ringsted said. “It will be so much more fun if it’s not just drama students, and instead, people from all over the school.” 

At this point, the new department head still hopes to put on a spring musical. Coming from a musical background, he has already lined up a choreographer and vocal director and started looking for available musicals.

According to Fernandes, Ringsted also plans to have students perform many of the roles that adults performed in previous years, such as managing lighting, design and choreography, so that productions will become more student-produced.

Above all, Ringsted understands the stress that students and teachers are under right now with the pandemic and the wildfires. He hopes to provide a safe outlet for students to learn and grow.

“It’s going to be hard, and we’re going to have to keep adapting,” Ringsted said. “But I want my students to have the outlook that we’re going to create something together, and it’s going to be great.” 

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