TUSCOLA — It was one of those moments that have become rare for high-schoolers over the last year: a yearly event that sparks anticipation and joy.
Last week, Tuscola High’s drama club was informed in a meeting that the yearly spring musical would go on, after a year of uncertainty as to whether the school’s seniors would ever perform again.
Immediately after the meeting, senior Justine Kauffman hopped into a car with a group of friends and began looking up information about characters and playing music from “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” which will have six performances from April 27 through May 1.
It’s an annual ritual, but it’s not one Kauffman necessarily expected to happen this year.
“It was a nice sense of hope,” she said.
Of course, this year’s spring musical will be different.
Director Johanna Steffens made sure to pick a show with a relatively small cast, and without constant wardrobe changes. The show takes place during a spelling bee, so actors can sit in chairs, spaced out. They’ll have to wear clear masks, but those will be worked into the performance, Steffens said.
Steffens didn’t know whether a musical would be possible this spring after the department’s fall play was canceled, but when it was announced that athletics would be able to hold their winter and spring seasons with a limited number of fans in attendance, her wheels began to turn.
“Once sports were allowed, I thought, ‘What can we do musical-wise?’” Steffens said. “I did this show 10 years ago at Tuscola, and it just popped in my head that it would be good during COVID times.”
For seniors like Maddy Boyd, the decision was a relief. Throughout her high school career, the plays and musicals at Tuscola have become one of her favorite pastimes. She said as an outgoing person, she takes pleasure in big moments when the spotlight shines directly on her.
She said she thought her drama career at Tuscola might over before Steffens’ announcement.
“It was rough,” Boyd said. “Since it’s my senior year and we’ve just had everything canceled, I think a lot of us were just keeping it day by day and didn’t really have any of the stuff to look forward to, and we just kind of weren’t expecting it anymore. It’s almost like a miracle sent down from heaven that we’re having a musical.”
The show will run six times, which is more than in a typical year, so more people can come see it in Tuscola’s cafetorium.
Steffens and the performers know the musical will have differences from previous shows. But this year, simply being able to get on stage and perform in front of an audience is enough.
“My goal, more than anything, is to give the kids, especially the seniors … the opportunity to get on stage one more time and kind of have that last performance,” Steffens said. “When we announced that we were going to be able to have an actual show with (an audience), they were just so excited to know that they were going to be able to have that chance, much like the athletes.
“I’m going into this show with a little bit different expectations, just knowing that the choreography, the dance, some of the staging might be a little bit different. We might not be able to do quite as much as they’re used to doing, but at least they’re still getting to do it.”