Joel Harpenau

Joel Harpenau plays Brandon in Chaparral’s production of “The Monologue Show (From Hell),” which streams on Broadway on Demand starting Nov. 18 at 7 p.m. through November 21.

For the Chaparral High School theater department, the show will go on – virtually.

Chaparral’s Theater Department Head Ed Como and his team of nearly 30 students will put on two productions of “The Monologue Show (From Hell),” which will stream on Broadway on Demand starting Nov. 18 at 7 p.m. through November 21.

And despite the play’s name, “The Monologue Show (From Hell)” is a light comedy, purposely chosen by Como in hopes of making audiences laugh amid this pandemic.

“Late last spring, I made an educated guess that it was highly likely that in-person performances would not be viable during the first quarter,” Como said. 

“I thought, with all the challenges going on, it would be better to find something to lighten the mood and hopefully make people laugh and feel entertained — a diversion from the stress.”

“The Monologue Show (From Hell)” by Don Zolidis is a one-act comedy that follows the hilarious unraveling of Mr. Banks’ drama class’ monologue show.

During the play, everything that could go wrong goes wrong as the students quarrel and tell tall tales, including one of a Taylor Swift-influenced store robbery.

What attracted Como to this particular play is it allowed him to not only give Enhanced Distance Learning students the ability to participate virtually but he was also able to assemble two different casts, allowing more performance opportunities for Chaparral students.

“I wanted to use the names Cast Shamwow and Cast Ginsu, but was shot down,” Como joked “So, it is the simple Cast Red and Cast Gold, referencing the school colors.”

“It was important for the students to realize that this was not an A cast and a B cast, but was made up of equal, but different performances from the students.”

The students pre-recorded their Zoom-like monologues from home and their segments will be interspersed throughout the monologues recorded “live” using three different cameras – “to be more engaging for the virtual audience,” Como explained.

“In that sense, it is more of a hybrid, which I think makes perfect sense, because the play’s setting is at a high school and that is the current reality,” he added.

Despite initial hesitations, thespian troupe president and stage manager Sara Segneri, 17, was excited to put on “The Monologue Show (From Hell).”

“A lot of one-acts written for high schoolers can often be pretty cheesy. However, when I first read the script, I remember laughing out loud at some of the monologues and being super excited to work on it,” said the Chaparral senior.

Following a brief two weeks of rehearsals, including virtual blocking the first week and working on the monologues the second week, Como and his masked-up cast and crew recorded the two casts live on two separate days.

This upcoming week, they’ll edit the performances before they stream on Broadway on Demand.

“There still are less than 20 in the black box space, cast and crew are wearing masks, [and] the show has a run time [of] around 40 minutes. So, I feel comfortable that we are doing the process in a conscientious manner,” Como said.

Other challenges the theater department faced include fundraising obstacles.

According to Sara, they had to adjust the kind of events they host to raise money for the department.

“For example, earlier this year we had an online zoom trivia contest,” Sara said.

For Trevor Shaughnessy, 17, a senior who will play the role of Mr. Banks, the most challenging part about putting on the play was the lack of a traditional, live audience due to COVID-19.

“We are unable to house an actual audience, and because the show is a comedy and ... after a big punchline I won’t hear an audience erupt with laughter is quite a sad thing I have to deal with,” Trevor explained.

For Como, though, the lack of audience feedback actually benefits the students.

“The actors [had] to dig a little deeper to find the energy from within themselves without the positive reinforcement of an audience. In that regard, it is good training because a well-trained actor uses the audience’s energy, but is not dependent on it being there, or being, as they say, ‘a good audience,’” Como said.

The biggest challenge for Como overall, however, was providing a creative outlet for his students without exposing the group to unnecessary risks.

“And so far, I feel the troupe has been successful with that part,” he said. 

For example, Trevor is also the leader of Chaparral’s improv group, which hasn’t been able to put on a show of its own due to COVID-19.

But the social distancing restrictions isn’t stopping the improv group from continuing to meet and engage in workshops. 

“Luckily, we are learning to move to an online substitute with the help of Mr. Como,” Trevor said.

“The most important goal is to stay positive and work to be creative in whatever means are available,” Como added.

Como, Trevor and Sara all hope “The Monologue Show (From Hell)” will make audiences laugh.

 “We could all use an extra laugh right now and that is why I am so glad this show is as hilarious as it is,” Trevor said.

Then there’s the hope of providing an escape.

“I hope people watching this show are able to escape the craziness of the world for 45 minutes and remember the joy that theatre can bring into their lives,” Sara said.

To watch Chaparral’s “The Monologue Show (From Hell),” visit get.broadwayondemand.com.

It costs $5 to watch the play online.