The Show Must Go On at Malibu High School

Tiffany Orian (left) jokes around with Johnny Sheridan during “MHS  Theatre 2020 Home Edition.”

The last 18 months have been filled with trials and tribulations for the Malibu High School (MHS) Theatre Department. First, the Woolsey Fire upended the school year, with some students losing their homes. 

“It was devastating to our community,” MHS Theatre Arts Director Jodi Plaia said, adding, “That was our first setback.” The fire forced the postponement of the school’s production of “Spring Awakening” that was finally cut to just two performances. Now, due to the pandemic, this spring’s show, “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime,” was canceled—another disappointment to the students, who were deep into rehearsals.  

“Kids were off-book—lines memorized. Everybody was in shock,” according to Plaia. But she said her “students were resilient after suffering so many losses and wanted to move forward.” So, the department decided on a virtual show—but it wasn’t easy. 

“Zoom is great, but it’s not user friendly for the arts,” Plaia explained, citing delays. “The boxes also keep moving around. As an actor, you can’t just look to your left to follow a castmate.” So, the production became a showcase—and it was optional, at a difficult time for many. Plaia didn’t want to burden her students with “another thing on your plate. 

“It never has been,” she said. “It’s been a haven. It’s the kids’ creative space. It’s the release from the rest of the things they have to do in their lives. I wanted to maintain that.” 

Together, the cast—minus just three—along with two stage managers, workshopped a quarantine-themed showcase. The performance is bookended by two songs written and performed by cast members. Another student, Ethan Marshall, grandson of the late showbiz legend Garry Marshall, performs one-liners discovered in his grandfather’s trunk. Interspersed are monologues poking fun and kvetching about our current sequestered lives.

One criterion Plaia requested was that the cast chose something funny. 

“We decided it had to be funny because we wanted to bring some lightness to our community. That, truly, was at the heart,” she said. “Theater brings light on a particular subject. ‘What can we offer? Let’s offer lightness.’ That was the focus.” 

Because they are theater students, the cast had to learn front-of-camera skills. 

“It was a whole, big learning curve,” Plaia said. One student used her new skills to audition for a summer program. 

The result is MHS Theatre 2020 Home Edition, available on YouTube with nearly 500 views and counting.  

Only one senior, stage manager Grace Colburn, took part. 

“She’s been my stage manager all four years,” the director said. “She’s an incredible human being. She’s been so valuable.” The 17-year-old senior was given the MHS Exemplary Achievement in Theatre Award.  She will matriculate at Gonzaga University this fall. 

And she’s looking back on her senior year as an unforgettable experience.

“My senior year was not what I expected, but it’s given me perspective going into college,” Colburn said. “Of course, I’m sad I couldn’t do my last show in person, but I’m very happy with the end product. I’m glad people are getting joy from it. It’s a bittersweet ending, but I’m so happy with my high school experience.” Colburn singled out Plaia and the rest of her teachers for providing her a “strong support system.” 

Congratulations to all graduates involved in MHS Theatre this year:

  • Alina Rose Armstrong

  • Grace Colburn

  • Sabrina Dion

  • Pardis Eslamien

  • Layne Jacobsen

  • Juliette Larsen

  • Gina Marcellino

  • Ava Newman