On the day the announcement came that school would not be resuming after Spring Break, the entire Theatre Department was amidst a dress rehearsal for “The Glass Menagerie” in preparation for a return performance at Montverde Academy, followed by two sold-out performances at the Tampa Theatre as part of the Florida State Thespian Festival. At that moment MVA, along with every Arts organization in the nation, went dark. This period of time has been a struggle for all Arts organizations, and many unfortunately may never fully recover.
“It could have been very easy to decide to wait this out and simply ‘hibernate’ during this quarantine,” said Dean Bell, MVA’s Director of Arts, “but our staff felt it was essential to find a way to continue to deliver the very best opportunities available to our students, and engage our community with high-quality performances.”
Faculty immediately went to work devising possibilities and methods to accomplish both of these things, to create the “Montverde Academy Festival of the Arts.” This new and unique series presented nine different events over 13 dates in the month of May, all free and accessible via the MonteverdeArts Facebook page.
In April, a play reading premiere of “NOISE,” the new play we have commissioned for the 2020-21 season, was presented. “It was a scary venture into new technology for us as we gathered via Zoom to rehearse and then connected to Facebook Live from Zoom to present the show to an audience,” said Bell. The results were actually better than ever anticipated. The play reading reached more than 2000 viewers! Having demonstrated both the success of the platform and the audience’s desire to view such offerings, plans moved on full-speed to prepare the Festival.
One of the live events cancelled was the Choral Cabaret, “Diva et Divo,” which would have run the first week of April. The newly designed “virtual” Choral Cabaret was first Festival presentation. This show featured solo cabaret-type performances from many Choir students, who recorded performances from their homes and melded together into an evening of entertainment.
The following week, two seniors in the Music Conservatory were featured in their Senior Recitals. Yilin (Selina) Xu performed on her cello every afternoon for a week with pieces from Bach, Elgar and Popper. The week concluded with Zayna JeBailey, vocalist, and her recital which included classical, contemporary and original pieces she wrote.
Week three began with our orchestra performing a piece commissioned especially for MVA written by and featuring pianist Charl du Plessis, entitled “I am Sailing.” This piece was written for strings, four pianos and voice, and beautifully wove Bach’s First Prelude and “I am Sailing” by Rod Stewart. For this concert, we again had each student perform at home, and then the videos were woven together to create the final product. Later that week, the Senior Freeplays, the final projects of the three Theatre Conservatory seniors, were performed by Valarie Kutemeier, Benazir Serna and Hanna Swidler.
The final Festival week featured the production of three One-Act plays, “Actually,” “Agamemnon,” and “Declaration” over three consecutive nights. The Festival concluded with the Music Conservatory juniors and their theatrical journey entitled “Love and War.”
This aggressive foray into using new technologies proved to be incredibly successful, with posts reaching more than 15,000 views. “Where our Art could have chosen to remain silent, we are so glad we chose to be a leader in embracing our situation and turning it into something beautiful for our students and our audiences. Factually, the scope and reach of our program has never been greater than it is at this moment . . . . these performances represent more than 36 sold-out houses of our theatre – a feat which would have been unprecedented under normal circumstances,” said Bell.
As the Festival of the Arts is complete, the performances are still available for viewing on the Montverde Academy Fine Arts Facebook page. Plans for next year are underway, but regardless of delivery method, there will be a rich and robust season of the Arts ahead for the MVA family.