Optimism! It's Only a Play Away.

Optimism! It's Only a Play Away.
Optimism! It's Only a Play Away.

On March 13, 2022, the curtain came down on the Upper School’s full run of the Broadway classic Annie. It was two years to the day since the Upper School held its previous musical theater production, a solitary performance of Newsies before lockdown.

The timeless show about a plucky orphan defined by her cheerful positivity was just the right story for the moment, says Sarah Markovits, the Upper School chorus teacher and the show’s director. “The story is all hope,” she says. “It’s about hopefulness and optimism, and it was just joyful.”

Annie was chosen for more practical reasons as well. It is one of the few musicals available to schools that allows public streaming, which was a serious consideration—just in case live performances became unsafe once more. Though the cast and crew were determined to ensure that wouldn’t happen again. So, for the safety of everyone involved, including the audience, the cast was tested for COVID daily leading up to opening night. A clean bill of health also meant the actors did not have to wear masks on stage.

There’s always a sense of celebration and sadness when a successful show comes to an end, and Annie was no exception. “I think the seniors were feeling sad when it ended, because it’s the last high school show they’ll get to do, and they missed a year,” Markovits says. “The conversations I had with the other kids were more along the lines of being so excited for next year and looking forward to what’s next. It felt like how it’s felt in the past: ‘Oh, I can’t wait to do this again.’”

Annie was special not only because it was another signpost on the road to normalcy, but because students who hadn’t previously been involved in theater showed up in droves. Not only was the cast large (37 students and one dog, named Gabby), but students easily filled out the 15-person crew, working the fly system, building props and costumes, and toiling in the dark so their classmates could shine in the spotlight. All in all, 10 percent of the Upper School student body was involved in the show, making it a great opportunity to welcome new faces to the theater.

“The cast always gets the lion’s share of the applause, but the crew is absolutely vital to the work,” Markovits says. “And we’ve always had this sort of niche group of kids who are a part of things, and now it’s like: This is a big tent thing; the musical should include anybody who wants to be a part of it.”

Another treat was welcoming a wide swath of students, parents, faculty, and staff back into the audience as Sidwell Friends opens up to more in-person events. 

“There were so many Lower Schoolers who came to the production,” Markovits says. “Just seeing their faces and hearing the little kids singing along—that’s what I hope theater in the Upper School will be. It’s about our community.”

A lot has changed in two years. But with this production of Annie, it seemed like the sun wasn’t waiting until tomorrow to come out—it started shining right away.

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