Traveling Players has big plans for its first in-person, public performances in the COVID-19 era.
After staging 15 plays on Zoom during the pandemic, the educational theater nonprofit reopened its studio at Tysons Corner Center to students this fall, and it has been able to provide in-person classes and programming to students from 4th through 12th grade, thanks to the recent expansion of vaccine eligibility to younger age groups.
“[H]aving the vaccine be an option for those younger kids has been great, and we’re actually right next door to the mass vaccination center, so they can go next door and get vaccinated,” said Jeanne Harrison, producing artistic director for the theater company. “A lot of them are in the process of being vaccinated because they’re just newly eligible, but we’re thrilled to have them with us.”
All of the company’s students will present their work to the public with a free, family-friendly showcase at the studio, located on the first floor of the mall, on Saturday, Dec. 11.
The 36 kids in the showcase will perform improv sketches, monologues, and theatrical scenes at 3:30 p.m. with advanced performances at 5:15 p.m.
Traveling Players is asking audience members to be vaccinated and wear masks. Performers — nearly all of whom are vaccinated or are in the process of getting the vaccine — will have the option to remove masks while on stage.
While most of its fall classes started in October, Traveling Players initially had to cancel those for its youngest performers, who were not vaccine-eligible at the time. Harrison told Tysons Reporter that they originally lacked the numbers needed to hold those classes.
That changed with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s announcement on Nov. 2 that some 28 million children could get vaccinated against COVID-19. Traveling Players resumed the elementary student class in November.
During the pandemic, the theater company had been making costumes and creating props and sets at its studio and delivering them to kids’ houses, where they created home studios and performed in front of their computers.
Traveling Players took its first steps toward offering in-person programming again this past summer, reorganizing its typical summer camps as “residential sleepaway camps” that took place outdoors with students staying overnight.
“What we decided was that we could be in person as long as we had a big space and that we controlled the space. We were able to bubble and really control who was in there,” Harrison said.
As schools relied on remote learning for much of the past two years, the isolation took a toll on kids’ emotional and mental well-being, health researchers have noted. Harrison says Traveling Players has been an antidote to that stress.
“We’re community based, and the kids, they’re making friends,” she said. “They’re being reunited with their old friends; they’re creating art; they’re expressing themselves; they’re laughing again. Yeah, their sparkle is coming back. It’s beautiful to see.”
After the showcase, Traveling Players will hold tryouts for an upcoming Dionysian festival on Sunday, Dec. 12, followed the next week by auditions for its summer camps, which will be overnight and outdoors again.
Coupled with additional programming like Greek trivia nights, the Dionysian Play Festival will have rehearsals from January through March, culminating with performances of “Ariadne’s Thread,” “The Odyssey,” and “Hecuba” at the mall from March 12-20 next year.
David Taube contributed to this report