“The Theory of Relativity” — a musical that delves into the world of distance and human connection — is about as appropriate as you can get during the pandemic.
With rehearsals beginning on computer screens at the end of February and then eventually moving into the actual face-to-face realm, students in the Mercer Island High School (MIHS) Drama Department have brought Neil Bartram and Brian Hill’s moving show to life over the last two months. The 15-member cast wrapped up on-stage filming on April 30, which was followed by an intensive editing process, and the production is set to start streaming on May 13.
Drama instructor and co-director Daniela Melgar noted that they received the green light to rehearse and film in person starting in mid-March. The final two weeks of the production included filming and audio recording. While filming and rehearsing, soloists and those who performed monologues were allowed to be maskless, while all other scenarios required actors to mask-up. Everyone had to maintain six-feet distance.
Melgar explained that the subject matter of the musical was accidental, since she was simply searching for a show they could perform with small groups of actors. Serendipity stepped into the room in the form of “The Theory of Relativity.”
“When I read it and listened to it, I was like, ‘Oh, this is perfect for many reasons.’ The idea that it is about distance and connection and people and our humanity and what brings us together — it seems perfect,” she said.
The students’ heart and commitment — to each other and to the musical — were on display the entire time, Melgar said.
“It was really neat to watch it happen. It was such a different experience the way that we did it,” Melgar continued. “We didn’t get to have the joy of a true opening night and a true closing night, but the students were so hard working and so flexible with kind of the craziness of this weird theatrical world we created.”
Senior Catherine Grady plays Olivia, a gay character who is scared to say that she is attracted to girls. To metaphorically explain her experience, she sings “Apples and Oranges” with her new friend Mika (Molly Atkinson). Olivia, a college student, becomes a stronger and more confident person along the way.
“I thought this was an interesting experience for me because although I am straight, I was still able to relate to Olivia. I think that’s a really important thing to remember for the LGBTQ community, but also just as an actress, because it was an interesting character challenge to help me sort of embody Olivia,” Grady said.
The theme of the musical — written by a pair of Drama Desk Award nominees — has impacted Grady. She said that when you pass someone by on the street, you never know if you have journeyed along similar life paths. Connections are everywhere.
“I think now that we’re all recovering from this and things are starting to open up, and we’ve all been through the pandemic, we kind of have more appreciation for these human connections. I think this play really reminds you to value those and pursue those,” Grady said.
Katharine Gregory, another senior, said that MIHS drama has resided deep in her heart during the many productions she’s participated in at the school.
When she found out they would be presenting “The Theory of Relativity,” Gregory researched the musical and discovered its coolness factor. She can relate to the idea that “we are living in a pandemic and the idea of it’s a big world, but it’s also small, and people intertwine and all the connections that you make and the networking that happens.”
Gregory plays the ultra-friendly Amy, who performs a lengthy ending monologue — the musical’s “button” — which explains how each character is connected through all the songs they’ve performed.
It was tough finding those connections while learning their music over Zoom, but Gregory and fellow actor Sophia Dondisch created a group chat to establish the teamwork they would need down the road.
“When we came together for filming, it was important that we had communicated with each other and gotten to know each other, because we’re all friends now and it’s really fun,” said Gregory, adding that the cast hopes to watch one of the streams together outside on a projector screen. Lots of emotions will surely be unleashed, she added.
Freshman Greg Chvany first performed in a MIHS production as a fourth-grader and now he’s digging into this musical as a high-schooler. It’s not how he expected things to go — sans a live audience — but he made vital connections with his cast mates and had heaps of fun during the process.
Chvany, who plays Paul, has seen most of the MIHS productions since he was 6 or 7.
“It was always super fascinating and I always had so much fun watching them. I probably couldn’t have even imagined how much fun it would be to be in one of them, even during COVID times. I had a blast and I am definitely looking forward to more productions in the future,” he said.
Dondisch, a junior who plays Mira, said she didn’t know everyone in the musical at first, but they soon began developing a bond when in-person rehearsals kicked off. While working on their craft together, they leaned on each other for assistance and, of course, connected.
“Everyone in this cast is unbelievably talented and everyone is so passionate about what we do, which I think is what makes this show so much better. Everyone works really hard and made this their priority,” she said.
It’s been a massive accomplishment getting the musical set to stream, Dondisch added, and she’s spreading the word all over her social media platforms.
“The Theory of Relativity,” sponsored by the Mercer Island Schools Drama Boosters, will stream at 7 p.m. on May 13, 14, 15, 20, 21 and 22; and at 2 p.m. on May 15 and 22.
To purchase tickets, go to: https://www.showtix4u.com/event-details/47509. General admission is $10, and students in grades K-12 are $5. Proceeds will go to the Mercer Island Schools Drama Boosters. ShowTix4U will email attendees a link address for the show/time they will be viewing. Only one streampass per household is needed.
The cast is: Katharine Gregory (Amy), Caroline Thompson (Caroline), Sadie Jensen (Catherine), Kyra McPherson (Jenny), Mimi Pietila (Julie), Sophia Dondisch (Mira), Annabel Rimmer (Sara), Catherine Grady (Olivia), Molly Atkinson (Mika), Kylie Drake (Adam), Giovee Roque (Anthony), Greg Chvany (Paul), Charlie Kwak (Ryan) and the ensemble of Madi Chew and Kate Petersen.
On the production side, Daniela Melgar and Victoria Spero are directors; Heather MacLaughlin Garbes is the musical director; Emily Elbaum is the stage manager; John Parker handles techical direction, lighting design and sound engineering; Lainie Schwartz is the assistant student director; Ailisa Newhall is the videographer; and Alicia Healey is the audio design engineer.
The band is: Heather MacLaughlin Garbes (conductor), Peter Garbes (keyboard 1), Quinn Haba (keyboard 2), Matthew Pang (guitar), Alexander Aylen (bass) and Aidan Hart (drums).