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Midvale Journal

Hillcrest theatre will look different during pandemic, in its last year on 58-year-old stage

Oct 21, 2020 12:39PM ● By Julie Slama

Students were encouraged to audition for Hillcrest’s Shakespeare team to compete in the 44th annual high school Shakespeare competition. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

While many high school theater departments went on hiatus during the soft closure of schools in the spring, Hillcrest High theatre students continued to perform.

As live performances of William Shakespeare’s “Richard II” were canceled just days before students were to take the stage, students worked with Salt Lake-based Panscape Pictures this summer to film and edit their performance to bring it to season ticket holders and audiences online. The show is now available at

In addition, there is a special podcast that will prepare patrons for “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” which is this season’s musical. Traditionally held in the fall, Hillcrest theatre director Josh Long moved it to late February to adjust and better adhere with the COVID-19 health guidelines.

“We’re planning things as if extracurricular activities will still happen all year and hope our students will have those opportunities,” Long said. “Our kids are happy to be back.”

Although, for Hillcrest theatre, it will look different.

For starters, many patrons have season tickets, which won’t be available this year. 

“We don’t want to go through a refund process if we need to cancel the shows,” Long explained.

Audiences usually fill the auditorium night after night for Hillcrest productions. Currently, Canyons School District guidelines only allow it to be at 25% capacity, or about 400 patrons per night, with only households sitting together.

Students will rehearse in masks, even during dancing, until the final dress rehearsal and performance, Long said. Students also will undergo symptom checks.

Instead of performing “Hunchback” this fall, the season will open with a yet-to-be named play, with a cast of about 10 students. Performances will be in mid-November and tickets will only be available online.

“We want to keep down the chance of someone getting COVID-19,” Long said. “If guidelines change or if someone is needed to be quarantined, we can livestream it or record it and look at other options. Everything this year will look smaller from less auditioning and having smaller rehearsals to more patrons staying home.”

“Hunchback” will be cast in late October or November and will be worked on during classes, without afterschool rehearsals. Long plans to double cast the show or have understudies to prepare in case people get sick or need to be isolated.

The final show will be “Follies,” presented by Hillcrest’s productions company during the third week of May.

“It’s about a Broadway theatre being torn down and it’s fitting as it’s the last show that will be held in our auditorium before it’s torn down,” Long said.

Hillcrest is in the midst of rebuilding a new school on the same campus. The new auditorium will be on the south end of the school.

Also, this year, the opportunity to travel is limited for many Utah high schools, so the 44th annual high school Shakespeare Festival will be virtual. Hillcrest plans to enter a video of a scene from “King Lear” as well as several individual events. Winners will be announced in early October.

Last year, Hillcrest took first place in their ensemble scene, first and second places in duo/trio scenes, first in tech Olympics, first in tech portfolio, first in lighting, first in props, first in sound, second in costumes, and second in overall sweepstakes. In addition, four students received scholarships.

The theatre students hope to take part in region and state competitions next spring. Last year, they took first in their one-act play, “Violence & Son” before individual events were canceled because of the pandemic. The state competition also was canceled.

The Utah High School Musical Theatre Awards were presented virtually last spring; Hillcrest took best choreography for “42nd Street.”