By Helen O’Neal, and Gabriella Gruber, Online Shadow Editors
// As the lights dimmed and the spotlight hit center stage on the opening night of the spring musical, Acalanes High School performers put on their first stage production without masks in approximately two years.
The Acalanes Union High School District (AUHSD) Governing Board allowed theater performers to perform maskless on stage for the Acalanes production of Beauty and the Beast, which ran from March 1 to March 5.
Although all rehearsals for the musical took place with masks on, many students hoped that they would be able to deliver a performance without masks.
“[Going maskless] was something that we were hoping for from the beginning. Many of the sports teams aren’t required to wear masks. In wrestling, the wrestlers are on top of each other without masks [while] in [the] performing arts, very few of the scenes have cast or crew that are really close to each other. It makes no sense for [performers] to have to be on stage wearing their masks,” Assistant Student Costume Designer and senior Brooke Blacklidge said.
With the support of Contra Costa Health Services, AUHSD Superintendent John Nickerson and Board President Kristin Connelly decided to allow performers to go on stage maskless.
“We made the decision to support moving our theater performers into the extracurricular masking exception, allowing masks to be removed with a testing program put in place… We had the Acalanes musical open [Tuesday] night and they were able to contact parents and test [Tuesday] afternoon,” Nickerson said at the Governing Board meeting on March 2.
In addition to the performers going maskless, wind and brass players in the pit did not have to wear a mask either while string and percussion musicians still had to keep their masks on.
“[The] only people who are allowed to not wear a mask are musicians who have to use their mouth, so this includes people who play the trumpet, bassoon, flute, things like that. But for my instrument and for other instruments that don’t use their mouth to play, like violin, cello, and percussion, we had to wear masks,” violinist and senior Katrina Ortman said.
Many performers found this experience to be exciting, as it was the first time in two years the cast could put on a musical in person and perform without masks.
“I think it’s really interesting because everyone hasn’t been performing for two years, so everyone is finally coming out of their shell. Everyone is probably used to performing as a kind of therapy, like a way to reset your mental health. I [also] use it as a hobby and I feel like a lot of people lost that. [I think] everyone’s just happy to have that back again,” actor for Lumière and frosh Cameron Zener said.
Being able to perform without face coverings also made many of the performers feel less constrained.
“[Not having to wear masks was like] freedom. [It was] amazing to do it without masks. Everyone in the cast felt very restricted by wearing masks, especially when we’re singing. We couldn’t really sing and project as much as we wanted to, and also [it was great] just having our whole faces show,” actor for Gaston and sophomore Montey Gumabay said.
There were also several technical advantages as a result of the performers being unmasked during the live performances.
“[Not wearing masks] felt a lot more open and real. [With masks] you have to put a lot more expression into actually acting because it is really hard to get any expressions out with just with your eyes. And most people use their arms and their entire body to get expression out, but it was a lot easier without a mask,” Gumabay said.
The last-minute change in the mask policy also made costume changes easier.
“It changed the way we put on wigs. At first, when [the beast] was wearing a mask, it was harder for him to get the head helmet off without getting the mask off too. So when we were given the okay to let them not wear the masks, it went much smoother,” Blacklidge said.
While many cast members enjoyed performing maskless, others worried about the increased risk of COVID-19 transmission.
“I was a bit scared because I look different without a mask than people expect normally. Personally, I wasn’t too concerned about COVID-19, but some people were, so they were a bit against it, but I think it came out well. It definitely made the performance a lot easier,” Zener said.
Despite this concern, the new masking policy gives students hope for future performances.
“I’m so happy that we finally get to see something like this again, and it definitely makes me look towards a brighter future of more performances,” Gumabay said.