McHenry County students adapt, continue to perform, display art during fall of remote learning

Woodstock North and Northwood Elementary school orchestra teacher Stacie Savittieri conducts an orchestra class with her students over Google Meet on Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020, at Woodstock North High School in Woodstock.

Students across McHenry County in the performing and visual arts this fall gained a new perspective on what exactly it means to believe the show must go on.

COVID-19 has meant no more gathering to practice together in big groups or assembling a large audience to witness the final products of drama clubs, choirs, marching bands, jazz and orchestra ensembles. It’s meant no open houses to view galleries of paintings, sculptures and photos by student creators.

Local teachers and pupils, however, still found plenty of ways to showcase their talents.

At Huntley High School, a stage was set up in a parking lot this fall so theater students could put on performances for a socially distanced, outdoor crowd.

Senior Luke Bucaro was among the actors to participate. He played a scene as a character who had lost his wife to suicide and pondered whether to continue grieving or move on while on a date with another woman.

Rehearsing on Zoom “was frustrating at times, but in the end it made me realize that if an artist has a drive to create art, ... they will create it no matter the obstacle,” Bucaro said in an email. “We all had to be on our A game, which made it that much more enjoyable because we weren’t promised another chance, so we laid it all out on the stage.”

Drama clubs in McHenry High School District 156, at both its east and west campuses, found ways to act amid the pandemic, too.

McHenry East produced a variety of scenes and monologues, with only a handful of students present together at a time to accommodate social distancing.

“We filmed everything and all experienced a learning curve with filming, rather than live production. Finally, all the scenes were curated on a website and distributed for the audience to see,” said Andy Hillier, the drama director for McHenry East.

At West campus, the drama club went back in time to another period featuring a miserable public health crisis by presenting a live performance of “The Living” by the playwright Anthony Clarvoe, a show set in 1665 London during the bubonic plague.

Seating was limited to 25 audience members per show, said Joann May, the West campus drama club sponsor, and the acting required some practices the students are likely familiar with now because of COVID-19.

“Throughout the show, no one approaches anyone closer than 6 feet, all actors are masked and no object is handed directly from one person to another, depicting the social distancing that had to be enforced in 1665. Everyone on stage is isolated in space,” May said.

High school music classes and shows have had to be rethought, too.

Instead of playing and singing for crowds, Woodstock High School’s chamber orchestra, choirs and bands this month released to YouTube a playlist of holiday music they compiled by assembling recordings during the fall of remote schooling. The songs are paired with video also shot by students.

Woodstock North High School and Northwood Middle School music students and teachers are working to refine recordings by members of each of those schools’ ensembles for a combined digital presentation this month, too, choral director Megan Kim said.

“We’ve been able to explore some pretty creative ways to display holiday decorations and lights and things like that in addition to the audio,” Woodstock High choir director Brian Jozwiak said.

Visual art classes have made adjustments, too.

When having family members and friends stroll through school hallways to gaze at paintings, drawings and photos by students was eliminated as an option, high school and middle school art teachers across McHenry County put together an online gallery of student work and judges voted on their favorite pieces in a variety of categories.

Students in Lindsey DiLeo’s Advanced Placement photography class at Cary-Grove High School were instructed to document local business activity during the pandemic by interviewing their owners and shooting photographs. The pieces were released in social media posts highlighting the businesses.

Angie Berthelsen, the owner of I Heart Yoga in Cary, was among those featured by the class, in an interview and photo shoot performed by Allie Bonnet.

Berthelsen told the student photographer about how the switch to online yoga formats put efforts to gain traction with kids yoga, corporate yoga and senior yoga on the back burner during the pandemic, according to a post from the class shared by Crystal Lake High School District 155 staff.

“I would like the people of Cary to know how much I really love this community,” Berthelsen told Bonnet. “I wouldn’t be here without this community kind of holding me up through this really difficult time.”