Berkeley Theatre Students Adapt from the Stage to Film During Pandemic

When Chris Marshall, Berkeley Preparatory School’s Director of Upper Division Theatre, began planning for a new school year of stage productions during a pandemic, he quickly realized that it would take something unconventional to safely deliver an awe-inspiring performance that takes into account the school’s carefully crafted COVID-19 mitigation policies.  “As I watched everything from Broadway to local theatre shut down last spring, normally the time for planning our upcoming season here at Berkeley, I must admit things looked pretty bleak,” Marshall explained. “As the pandemic continued, it seemed unlikely that we’d be gathering as a community to watch our normal fall play.”

Marshall said that he met with actors, student stage managers, assistant directors, and designers on Zoom often. “We were itching to do something, but all of us had pretty much already tired of Zoom Theatre.” He explained that at the same time he was also deep in the planning stages of launching a new class in film production at Berkeley. That’s when he had an “ah-ha” moment to find a way to incorporate the two pursuits in a safe way, and ideally outside.

“I really wanted to do something for these kids to remember this year that has seen so much canceled; also, something that if you looked at it 10 years from now, would not look like ‘the COVID version.’ And then it came to me: Shakespeare’s The Tempest, adapted for film.”

Since the beginning of the school year, Berkeley’s theatre students have been planning, storyboarding, rehearsing, and filming their feature film The Tempest, that will replace the traditional fall play. The students are shooting the entire film throughout Berkeley’s 86-acre campus, outside, using professional gear purchased for the film program. Marshall has also hired a former student of his from California who attended USC film school to be the producer and Director of Photography. “He manages a crew of up to 10 students on Zoom weekly as we get ready for our shoots. As the director, I work with our producer as well as two student assistant directors as we prepare each day’s visuals, storyboards, gear, and our student crew for every shot.”

Marshall explained that the crew always takes into account social distancing, sanitization of gear, removing face coverings outside only just before “Action!” and they are back on after “Cut!” “On set, we use a student costume and makeup designer (with the remote support of a professional costume designer), assistant directors, a camera crew, sound mix, and obviously we have a stellar cast of actors learning how rewarding and challenging acting for film can be,” he added.

The students plan to wrap shooting by early December and expect to complete post-production in early January. A socially-distant, outdoor premiere will take place later in January.
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Founded in 1960, Berkeley is an independent, Episcopal, college-preparatory day school located in Tampa, FL, for boys and girls in grades Pre-Kindergarten through 12. Approximately 1,380 students gather here from the greater Tampa Bay area to form ONE Berkeley.