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The Clifton Prep Arts department, led by the redoubtable Mrs Meyer, was determined not to let music and theatre become yet further casualties of this virus and so, we turned to the world of film.

It was our musicians that led the way, with the first step being to record performances that could be played within our digital assemblies and added to video libraries on TEAMS or the MS Stream platform. Performing to a camera, very often one at the top of an iPhone is a far more difficult task than it may appear.

Performers thrive on the energy of an audience and rely on the excitement of a live show. And yet, our boys are perhaps more accustomed to the world of video and streaming than our generation and were certainly brave and determined in their efforts – and The Arts endured!

2020’s Cultural D@ze was the highlight, with professional artists recording live performances and fun online workshops, which were put together into a programme and streamed into classrooms and homes. This great success inspired us to take the next step, from recording or broadcasting stage performances, to actually producing and editing bespoke movies.

As Mrs Jane Magner (Clifton Head of Instrumental Music and member of Verandah Panda) had championed so much on the music side, we secured the services of Mr Liam Magner (the other half of Verandah Panda), to help us step up our movie-making magic.

After whetting our appetites with some short clips and videos of the school song, Women’s Month, staff Shakespeare skits and a few others, the ambitious step was taken to make a genuine short film with the Grade 7’s.

Our stage production had been cancelled after only one week of rehearsals and we finally had a chance to let our boys have their day in the sun.

 

The marvellous Magner duo conceived and wrote the charming tale “What the World Needs Now” and it was lights, camera and action! The full tale of this brilliant movie is captured in last year’s school magazine but what is interesting to comment on here, is the learning curve we had to ride to become movie makers. In a stage play, the work and the process build slowly each day, as you work the script from start to finish, laying the blocking; working the intentions; refining characters; introducing costumes; plotting the technical – all leading towards the climax of opening night. The actors worry about their lines and the director worries that the gunshot sound effect works at the right time.

Filming was an entirely different experience. The hard work and stress were upfront, choosing locations, getting costumes ready and conceptualizing the cinematography. The actors’ main worries became their pimples and remembering to bring exactly the same shirt as the last shoot, and the director’s worries became about the angle of the shadows changing with the sunlight and the neighbour’s very enthusiastic lawnmower. And yet somehow, the most amazing piece of art emerged, that we can now keep in perpetuity. (POPIA allowing)

When it became clear that 2021 was not going to see a quick return to normalcy, it was then an easy decision, to continue on the path of making movies. This year’s school play became the school movie, and we converted our cancelled stage play from 2020 (Jimmy and the Ginormous Naartjie) into a screenplay. Narrators will become a creative team at a board meeting, giant insects will turn into comic book heroes and this year, we are armed with some very decent kit. Our IT facility at 118 houses our own green screen room with professional spotlighting that works beautifully with our HD Eos 90D Canon Camera, replete with a shotgun mic. We have also invested in professional broadcast microphones with sound shields and mixing hardware and software.

 

For Prep schoolboys it is a slice of magic, and we wait impatiently to see a final product that will look very little like the set the actors stood on. Some scenes will also be filmed in the kitchen and lovely garden surrounds of the IT centre, where battling the elements is at least as important as battling the nerves. We would never want to depart completely from live stage performance and there are certain aspects of theatre that film simply cannot replicate but the same is true vice versa and it is a huge positive to have added this extra arrow to our quiver.

Following the example set by our Grade 7’s, Grade 4 are bringing the poems of Ken Nesbitt to the screen rather than potentially missing out on their Poetry Evening. Introducing a howling hamster, zombie teachers and bio-chemical weaponized socks, the boys cannot wait to entertain us with the story of life at Clifton as explained to a crash-landed company of aliens complete with music and dance routines. All of this is made possible by our boys’ resilience and ability to adapt to this strange new world.

Technology can be very good at isolating people and keeping them apart but, if used wisely, it can also connect people and bring them closer together. COVID forced us to take the step from the stage to the screen and although we shall certainly look back, we shall also always keep moving forward. One way or another, the show must go on.