What Goes On Behind the Scenes of Chagiga?
When putting together Chagiga, the student-led High School girls musical, students collectively make their show come alive inside the auditorium and surrounding areas of the school. In preparation for the show, the atrium transforms into an orchard decked with apples. A rustle of the plastic on the Martinelli apple juice refreshment spot imitates the crunch of an apple freshly picked from the trees. A seat in the dark of the auditorium transports you to the plush cushions of Broadway while you watch Dear Evan Hansen live on stage. The intricate behind-the-scenes work and preparation before the big show makes Chagiga truly special to the High School girls.
Chagiga preparation began before the school year itself. After shining on stage for three of her high school years, senior Kiki Starr took over as Chagiga Director. During summer break, with the help of her mother, Kiki spent hours each day carefully rewriting Broadway’s musical Dear Evan Hanson script into a reproduction titled Dear Eden Hurwitz.
The Chagiga cast and crew worked tirelessly for months to reach the moment in the auditorium where the lights turn off and everyone sits in anticipation as the curtains fall open. In the weeks before the show, when the school day ended, the cast stepped out of their dress code and into their costumes to play the parts of characters from the widely-known musical. Down to the props, mannerisms, and roles in the show, each girl worked hard to memorize their lines and personify her character.
Following the plotline of Dear Evan Hansen, the show is about a high school girl who feels like an outcast in this complicated contemporary world of social media. This leads her to lie to her peers and mother in order for her to feel accepted. The musical centers around the lead role’s adventure at the apple orchard, so the High School girls worked hard to display this part of the show in their advertisement and presentation. The decoration committee worked to decorate the atrium outside the auditorium with tissue paper trees and paper apples hanging from the ceiling to echo the apple orchard. The food committee included apple juice and apple pecan cinnamon buns in the refreshment boxes. Every detail behind the show was well thought out and intricately designed.
As the arranging, advertising, and promotion of Chagiga is all student-run, the responsibility of putting on the show can be stressful and overwhelming. In addition, making sure Chagiga is a COVID-safe environment presented many more challenges and careful planning.
In past years, the food committee spent the weeks before the show reaching out to local companies to sponsor refreshments set up in the atrium for the audience to enjoy during the intermission. This year, the administration told the food committee to pre-pack boxes for the audience to take home, so they could avoid any risk of spreading COVID-19 through eating the food during the show. “It definitely took more planning than other years to pre-package all of the food items in individual boxes for the audience,” Co-Food Head Rebecca Solon explained. “Despite the time and thought it took to design and put the boxes together, they ended up looking amazing and incorporated a major part of the play.”
The performance of the show itself also had to run differently than in previous years. Currently, masks are required for students to wear during the school day and indoor extracurriculars. So, the girls practiced while wearing masks, although it makes it harder to sing and display certain facial expressions critical for acting in a role.
Additionally, since AJA students get COVID tested every week, if an actress tested positive right before the show they would not be able to perform. Director Kiki Starr expressed her concern over testing right before the show. “The lower school play had tests and someone tested positive, so they couldn’t be in the play.” She explained that she was afraid that “all of their hard work would go to waste.”
Kiki and her cast wanted to find a solution to ensure the most safety and the least amount of positive results. After many conversations with administrators, they found an answer to balance these needs. The first show was on Thursday, so students had their regular school mandated COVID testing on the Friday before. If a student tested positive, they had just enough time to quarantine at home but then come in time for the show. Then, all of the cast members who either tested negative or quarantined were allowed the choice of unmasking during the show. Between scenes, if they were backstage, the cast was told to wear their masks. With administration authorization, parental approval, and individual consent, the majority of the cast chose to unmask.
The day after the first show was Friday, so all students were required to test if they would like to go back to school on Monday. In addition, the administration decided that if cast members would like to unmask for the second show, they could do so with a negative test result. However, if a cast member tested positive, they would not have enough time to quarantine, so they would not be allowed to participate in the show. The whole cast and crew held their breaths while waiting for their results. They would not know if the show could go on until the night before.
With a stroke of luck, all of the cast members received negative PCR results, so the second show could go on. The lights turned off, the curtains opened, and the audience witnessed the High School girl’s months of hard work come alive.