Rise: Variety Show thrives despite pandemic


Esther Lim

Voice of V-Show: Singing out her soul, Grace Nourbash performs “Somebody to Love” with her band.

Caroline Ohlandt and Anna Marquardt

Masked-up and six feet away from her fellow performers, senior Grace Cullum executed the routines she had spent months rehearsing for this year’s Variety Show, “Rise”. As she struck that final fabulous pose, she was met with utter silence. In any other year, Cullum’s involvement with the Singer-Dancers and Chamber Singers would be showered with claps and cheers of vitality.

This year, she felt the absence of the audience’s roars of applause that would typically fuel her energy.

Although this has been difficult, Cullum said this year’s V-Show experience was special and motivating in its own way and believed everyone involved was able to “Rise” up against the challenges posed by Covid-19.

“This year [was] different, but I am still so beyond thankful for the show we are still creating and the hard work everyone [put] into it,” Cullum said. “V-Show truly creates an incredible family and I still feel support from the staff and fellow cast members.”

At the forefront of the leadership for this year’s V-Show is Broadcasting Teacher Julie Benca, the director of television and film for GBS TV. Benca explained that she and her team of 22 student camera operators, directors and audio operators have been working collaboratively to make this year’s show amazing, even in its virtual format.

“My students, many of whom wouldn’t otherwise be involved in the V-Show, [got] to participate by being part of the video crew and make something that’s really professional and something that they’re really proud of,” Benca said.

Benca applauded the immense efforts by every student involved in the show and expressed appreciation for the way they were able to overcome the pandemic’s adversities. Benca explained that South’s TV program had become much more essential to the V-Show process with the absence of a live audience due to safety restrictions.

“It’s pretty incredible, given the world that we’re living in right now, that students have been able to produce videos,” Benca said. “All of this amazing student performance and artwork is being seen on screen during a global pandemic and [the students’] version of editing it all together is the version that everyone will see.”

Senior Sophie Cotton, a TV director and executive producer of the V-Show, worked for weeks alongside her fellow TV crewmates, piecing video clips together to make the completed and fully virtual V-Show that was accessible through ShowTix4u.com. Cotton said that because of TV’s amplified role, they had a greater responsibility in completing the show in an unprecedented time.

“Everyone [heavily relied] on the TV crew to make sure they capture everyone on the stage, rather than just honing in on certain people or just getting nice camera shots,” Cotton said. “We [had] to make sure we got everyone in the picture in every act.”

As a result of added responsibilities and Covid-19 restrictions, the TV crew had to persevere through numerous difficulties when filming, editing and working collaboratively, all while following District 225’s safety precautions of social distancing, mask wearing and reducing the amount of participants at any given time.

“There [were] many challenges with the TV crew having to be socially distant,” Cotton said. “We just had to keep pushing to make sure everything was done well.”

Robert Shellard, AP Music Theory and music production teacher, is a co-director of the V-Show and recognizes the hard work South’s TV students have put in. In any typical year, he would not have spent so much time working with the TV students. He expressed appreciation for how they stepped up to make the show happen. He acknowledges that without the TV crew, V-Show would not have come together in its virtual format.

“[It] was a real joy for me because these TV students sometimes go unnoticed for all their hard work and talent,” Shellard said. “This year they are really at the forefront of our creative expression.”

Shellard explained that the V-Show has always been a place for students to express themselves, and that remains unchanged. He emphasized that students’ passion and love for the V-Show has kept it alive, regardless of the difficulties that emerged in the past year.

“It’s been a while since live art has happened in person,” Shellard said. “We’re really proud of the way the V-Show has always celebrated live art and our whole student body’s ability to come together and create something.”

On days spent filming the show, junior Sami Duby stood in the wings, watching each act unfold around the phoenix centerpiece that she and her fellow Stage Crew members spent many hours creating. This centerpiece was inspired by this year’s V-Show theme, “Rise.” Duby expressed that being able to create art again after so much time off was extra meaningful for her and the rest of the crew.

“It’s really good [to] see something start from an empty stage and become all of these beautiful acts of singing, dancing and instrumental playing,” Duby said.

Shellard explained that “Rise” was a theme celebrated by all involved in planning this year’s show. When he and co-director Marla Lampert discussed a theme for this year’s show, they settled on “Rise”, as it was both uplifting and inspiring. Shellard feels that art is something that can bond many and explained he was hoping to captivate the feeling of escaping, or “rising” up from a time where there was an absence of live performance.

“The thing that resonated most strongly with me was that art is still happening, students are still creating,” Shellard said. “They may be wearing masks, they may be six feet apart, but nothing can stop live expression.”

South’s first fully virtual V-Show premiered on March 12 at 7:30 p.m. and aired two more shows on the following Saturday.

“[We tried] to recreate that live experience and maintain as many things as we possibly could,” Shellard said.

Although this year’s V-Show was drastically different than what anyone Cullum had expected, she expressed her gratitude for a memorable experience surrounded by people who made her senior year V-Show possible. As Cullum reflected on her prior V-Show experiences, she was able to appreciate this year’s journey along with that of every other year.

“The V-Show is such an incredible thing, and my high school career would be so different without it,” Cullum said. “The people I have met, the memories I have made and the growth I have experienced make me so thankful and lucky to be a part of an incredible family.”