The Show Must Go On: ‘Our Monologues’ Adapts to COVID-19

Despite unprecedented challenges, the student directors of BHS’s 'Our Monologues' are working hard to keep the show alive and relevant.

Theatre is an art form ripe with challenges. In every show, much can go wrong: set pieces fall, costumes malfunction, lines are forgotten, props are misplaced, and more. Though every art form has challenges of their own to fight, what is unique about theatre is that the art cannot be paused to fix the problem. There is a live audience and a show to get through, and that show must be performed one way or another — regardless of obstacles. A popular expression in the theatre community is, “The show must go on.” This saying embodies the spirit of artistic perseverance no matter the setback. 

Berkeley High School (BHS) has a tradition of putting on a show based on a compilation of monologues every year. Previously, the annual performance was The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler, but the show was replaced last year by the student-written Our Monologues. Unfortunately, that tradition had been put into question with the presence of the COVID-19 virus. Nonetheless, Our Monologues student directors Rusma Kharel and Marisa Sundu have decided that the show, indeed, must go on. Kharel, a senior in Communication Arts and Sciences (CAS), and Sundu, a senior in Academic Choice (AC), are in the process of figuring out what the show will look like during this worldwide pandemic. 

Our Monologues is not a typical high school play. Unlike The Vagina Monologues, it does not have a set script that remains the same each year. Rather, Kharel and Sundu have cobbled together the show from pieces that were written and submitted by BHS students. In fact, the show is still growing now — even as the audition process is drawing to a close. Sundu explained, “We got most of our submissions over the summer and near the start of the school year, but at this point, we’re … reaching out to people [whose monologues] we feel are missing certain narratives or perspectives that we want to make sure have a platform.”

Our Monologues is a show by and for the community — namely the BHS community. Sundu said, “Our goal is that everyone who comes to see it sees themself represented onstage.” This goal is accomplished through the genius of the evolving show and script. The submissions represent the community at large and its experiences. As that community evolves and changes, the submissions and, thus the show, will change with it. Last year, broader themes that were addressed in the show included race, trauma, and identity. This year, some themes will include friendship, mental illness, and sexual assault. 

Theatre is not the most COVID-19 friendly activity. Extended periods of close contact in small, indoor spaces mixed with singing make for a dangerous and infectious combination. Kharel and Sundu have jumped at figuring out how to do everything safely. They are currently nearing the end of the audition process, running callbacks with various safety precautions. Sundu explained, “We’ve been doing a mix of outdoor [meetings] and [being] socially distanced with masks because, at this point, it’s only me and Rusma and one other person at a time. We have also had some Zoom auditions.” 

Curiously enough, the auditions during COVID-19 were superior to the regular process. Kharel observed, “Last year, it was in a classroom with a lot of people crowded in the hallways, but now, we get to really just come and go through the process.” Kharel and Sundu have been forced to limit the auditions to one actor at a time, allowing each audition to be more in-depth and personalized.  

Due to the unpredictable nature of the pandemic, Kharel and Sundu have yet to  cement a date for the performances. Sundu explained, “We’re trying to do everything we can so that it will be possible to do an in-person show, including pushing the show back later than it was last year, in the hopes that things will improve.” An online show has certain advantages, as anyone can watch it from anywhere, but there is no doubt that an in-person show, whether indoors or outdoors, is far preferred. Whether seen online or in person, BHS’s Our Monologues is a poignant, unique, and thought-provoking production that should not be missed. For updates on show dates, visit the Our Monologues website, or follow the Instagram account @ourmonologuesbhs.

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