- Associated Press - Saturday, September 19, 2020

FREMONT, Neb. (AP) - It had to be tough.

A student may have waited four years to get that great solo or leading part in a musical.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the curtain went down on the show before students got to fulfill their dreams.

Now, Biannah Peji-Palm is giving students a second chance.

This weekend, Midland University is presenting: “Spotlight 2020: A COVID Story” at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 18-19 and 2 p.m. Sept. 20 in Kimmel Theatre on the Midland University campus. The public is invited to the free event, which also will be Livestreamed.

The show will last about an hour and features a cast of 21 students.

Each year, Midland has a cabaret-variety show. A director selects a theme and creates a show around it.

Peji-Palm, a theater graduate assistant, told the Fremont Tribune she chose the COVID theme for various reasons.

For one, she was inspired by hearing about people’s artistic expressions, reflecting how they were affected by COVID-19. These expressions could have been through artwork or music. They could have involved the loss of loved ones or lost opportunities.

Peji-Palm knew there were students who didn’t get to take part in shows last spring due to the pandemic.

There were high school seniors who were supposed to perform in the shows “Peter Pan” or “Hello Dolly” in their high schools last spring. At Midland, the virus kept other students from being able to present the musical, “The Drowsy Chaperone.”

“I wanted to get a platform for them to be able to perform those numbers as well as stories and reflections about their experiences of COVID-19, lockdown and quarantine,” Peji-Palm said.

So students will have the opportunity to give these performances in this new show.

The show also will include some coronavirus parodies that went viral.

One of those is a song from “Les Miserables” called “One Day More” and another is “Seventeen,” a song from “Heathers.” Both were changed to reflect COVID-19 experiences.

The show includes original songs from cast members. In addition, there will be a number dedicated to Black Lives Matter.

“We understand that COVID-19 is not over yet,” Peji-Palm said. “But we’re going to tell our story so far.”

As much as possible, performers will remain 6 feet apart. They’ll wear face shields and some will don face masks. A canister for disinfectant wipes will be positioned with each microphone.

All such things are designed to show the audience what students are dealing with, she said.

Konner Kiesel, a freshman from Wilber, performs in all the group numbers, but his big part takes place at the end.

That’s when the show has a reprise of the song, “As We Stumble Along,” from the musical “The Drowsy Chaperone.”

The premise is that people need to keep stumbling forward.

Kiesel appreciates the brief monologue he’ll get to present in the show.

“I talk about how theater and music can be used as a way to heal and it also can distract us sometimes so we don’t have to face reality all the time and it can act as a happy little pat on the back,” Kiesel said.

Kiesel notes that Broadway is shut down as are other theaters.

Peji-Palm pointed out that MU hasn’t had a live performance since before the quarantine.

“I think for those who value and miss performing arts, this will be a chance to see that, especially since we’re one of the few performing arts places that get to do live performances,” Peji-Palm said.

Peji-Palm hopes audiences will walk away knowing they’re not alone in whatever they’re feeling in regard to COVID-19.

And she wants audiences to know something else:

“Theater is still alive,” she said.

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