Stone Bridge High School
"There is a fifth dimension, beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area we call The Twilight Zone." This monologue, performed by Rod Serling, was featured at the beginning a TV series that traversed space and time and different, wacky dimensions where nothing was ever quite right. The theater department at W. T. Woodson High School could have started their performances the same way before leading the audience on a journey through fantastical new adventures and thrilling places. The school provided a double-feature: student-written podcast "Buddies!!" and student-directed play "The Philadelphia" by David Ives. The theme for the night was alternate worlds: whether in a miserable state of mind or tormented by a haunted VHS tape, the students did a remarkable job of telling very different stories.
"Buddies!!" was a spooky podcast about a group of friends and a 1960s-era sitcom. Mikey (Farooq Khan), Ashley (Rachel Sper), Brittany (Maddie Keene), Nicole (Anna Closs), Jessie (Diya Selvan), and Chris (Jacob Boyett) find an old VHS tape featuring a sitcom called "The Buddies." However, things don't go as usual when the tape starts acting unexpectedly.
The recording had a very similar atmosphere to a radio play or The Twilight Zone, featuring an impressive array of student-made sound effects. The writing excelled in showing a distinct difference between the two eras it showcases. While most of the performance takes place in the 2000s, everything from the vernacular to the manner of speaking changes sharply when the sitcom is playing. Rachel Sper's editing of the voices not only made it sound like they were in the same room together but also seemed to paint a 3-dimensional map of where everyone was and what they were doing. Despite lacking visuals, the podcast made the action very clear.
"The Philadelphia" was a comedy satirizing various cities in the United States, namely, Philadelphia. Mark, portrayed by Rachel Furr, had been having an off day, with nothing going according to plan. Al, played by Robbie Wilcox, explained that this was "a Philadelphia." No matter what you asked for, you'd get the opposite. The paradoxical nature of this satire leads to wacky hijinks and fast-paced action.
Set in a restaurant and filmed in a student's backyard, the show doesn't shy away from the reality of our world or try to minimize the effect that the pandemic has had on theater as a whole. Student director Elizabeth Vichness expertly balanced film with traditional theater, blocking her actors in a way that felt natural and effortless without sacrificing quality. The camera work was superb with vibrant colors, excellent framing, and immaculate continuity. Despite filming outdoors, the actors' voices were clear and clean with a diverse soundscape and without wind noise. The lighting highlighted the actors without being distracting. The actors excelled in their performances, with dizzyingly fast line deliveries and physicality that showcased their cities.
In the end, the two shows could not have been more different. One had the horror and intrigue of a Goosebumps book, and the other could have been a sketch straight from The Animaniacs. However, both fit the theme exquisitely and expertly told the stories they aimed to relay. The students deserve a big round of applause for their ability to adapt to COVID restrictions and continue to produce an excellent show.
Chantilly High School
There are days where you feel as though you've woken up in an entirely different world. Where just nothing will go right, and everything feels wrong. At that point, you might wonder to yourself: how did I get here, and how do I leave? W.T. Woodson High School explores this feeling in their two shows, Buddies!! and The Philadelphia.
W.T. Woodson's first show, Buddies!!, was a bone-chilling horror story in a podcast, centered around a group of friends who found an old VHS tape that may be more ominous than it first appeared. Written by the cast, Buddies told a compelling story with subtle rising tension throughout the show. Buddies didn't thrust the audience into the horror; instead, the writing let the fear seep through the dialogue. The horror was furthered by the phenomenal vocal performances of Anna Closs, Farooq Khan, and Jacob Boyett, who played the 60s sitcom characters within the VHS tape. Their soft, melodic, tones and smooth transatlantic accents created a menacing atmosphere, juxtaposed nicely against the perky teenage voices of the rest of the ensemble.
As a podcast, Buddies relied on sound alone to tell the story. Luckily, Buddies' editor, Rachel Sper, filled the show with detailed sound effects. From the soft click of the VHS tape to the ear-piercing static from the TV, the sound effects made the story feel dynamic and real. Some scenes required overlapping noise, and Sper's sound mixing ensured no actor was ever drowned out.
Buddies' visuals were limited to cover art and a tagline, but the podcast even utilized what little visuals they had to their furthest extent. Once the gradual terror of Buddies reached its climax, the story shut off, and the unobtrusive cover art grew distorted and glitchy. The eerie ending's use of the visuals in an otherwise audio-only show was a fantastic subversion of expectation.
W.T Woodson's other show, The Philadelphia by David Ives, was a more comedic take on the idea of being pulled into another world. The play centered around two friends, Al and Mark, meeting up for lunch, but Mark's whole world seemed to be functioning backwards. Al explained that Mark was caught in a "Philadelphia," where you're given the opposite of anything you want.
The Philadelphia was shot in a cast member's backyard, transformed into a restaurant's outdoor seating patio with detailed set dressing. The show's costumes, designed by Rachel Furr, demonstrated character before the actors even said a word.
Furthermore, the actors put thought into their characters before bringing them to the screen, and that came through in their performance. The cast was bursting with chemistry, allowing for expert comedic timing and fast-paced dialogue. Al, played by Robbie Willcox, brought a relaxed energy, in contrast to Rachel Furr's high-strung Mark. Set against both was the dry-humored waitress, played by Anna Riley.
The Philadelphia was filmed with incredible continuity between shots. Editor Robbie Willcox created smooth transitions that cleanly wove the show together. Thanks to the direction of Elizabeth Vichness, The Philadelphia came out as a brilliantly fast-paced laugh riot.
Through horror and comedy, W.T. Woodson's double feature of Buddies and The Philadelphia brought both chills and thrills to the screen. These shows assured us that although sometimes the world may feel as if it's been turned on its head, there's no reason to panic or fight it. Just sit back and try to enjoy the wacky ride before things return to normal--if there ever was a normal in the first place.