The announcement of school closures in the spring was a life-changing event for every student and family -- and for Victor Valley High School drama students, it was devastating.
Teacher Jennifer Nocera and her students are known for their elaborate and well-rehearsed productions, and the school had recently unveiled a new Performing Arts Center after years of using other venues or staging plays in classrooms.
The class was only able to use the new facility a few times before COVID-19 forced the closure of all Victor Valley Union High School District campuses in March. It was a crushing blow for Nocera and her students, but they channeled their creative energies into something the class had never done before: an original play, co-written by VVHS students, about the pandemic.
The result of that work -- entitled “The Day the World Stopped” -- is premiering December 9 online and continuing through Friday, December 11.
“When school closed in March, my students were struggling with absence of creative opportunities and everything that was happening,” Nocera said. “But I knew that writing always helped me deal with things.”
So, Nocera had her advanced theatre classes start writing. Students wrote the opening of the play, as well as monologues that were based on several interviews they conducted. Among the interviewees were VVHS alumni that had been impacted by the pandemic: essential workers, healthcare workers, and theatre professionals who suddenly couldn’t practice their craft in the traditional way.
The interviews and the creation of the play were cathartic experiences for many of the students, including VVHS senior Richard Maestas.
“When the quarantine happened, it affected me in a huge way because I am an outgoing and social person,” Maestas said. “Mentally I wasn't in a good place. The day of the interviews came and hearing those stories was emotional for me. I cried. The next day I felt so much better. Like the whole world was lifted off my shoulders”
Nocera took the contributions from students and made a rough draft, and together they molded it into “The Day the World Stopped.” The play consists mostly of monologues, transitional pieces, and one part where the young actors are interacting while wearing masks and socially distancing. The result is something of a hybrid between theatre and film.
Nocera said there are many “silver linings” despite the hard situation her young actors have faced. One is that the students get to be a part of pioneering a new way to stage plays for the community in a post-pandemic world. Another is that the school closure provided enough downtime to accomplish something she had always wanted to do: write a play with her students.
“The lack of doing a traditional production has freed up the time to conquer this,” she said.
They are proud of the play’s historical significance as well as its expression of emotions that everyone affected by the pandemic will find familiar.
“It is going to touch so many people,” Maestas said. “So many people can relate.”
The community can see it online through December 11 by visiting https://www.onthestage.com/show/victor-valley-high-school/the-day-the-world-stopped-14604 for ticket information and streaming instructions.