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'Quarantine challenge': Marco Island students write plays in 48 hours for online performance

Online rehearsal for "Father" written and directed by Grace Fields. Clockwise from top left: Koby Garcia-Lopez, Grace Fields, Riley Letendre, Prestley Irvan, Ryan Sullivan and Robert Davis.

When Chris Dayett's students started taking classes online due to coronavirus some told him they missed doing theater after school. 

Dayett, a performing arts instructor and Thespian troupe director at Marco Island Academy, said he had to do something about it. "Just to hear them say 'we are so bored' and 'we miss rehearsing together,' it's really hard," he said.

As Florida officials started announcing stay-at-home orders, Dayett took part in a play-writing festival in Minnesota known as "bake-off" where participants have to write short plays in a matter of hours using several elements which they call "ingredients."

"I had a lot of fun with that and the more I was talking about the process with my thespians a lot of them wanted to do something like that," he said.

Dayett challenged students to write short plays up to 15-pages-long in 48 hours; the academy's first bake-off. 

The plays had to include five ingredients: a room, a roll of toilet paper or paper towel, a communication device, a lesson learned and a light source. Seven students submitted plays but it did not stop there.

Dayett challenged participants even further asking them to do a virtual performance. "The next thing I know the play writers wanted to direct their own play and then they were casting people from the school," he said. 

Design and marketing students got involved preparing the press release and the social media campaign, according to Dayett.

"We have just shy of 20 percent of our entire student body working on this show in some shape or form."

Students wrote in a school press release sent Thursday they were happy with the results.

Senior Prestley Irvan wrote her very first play for the bake-off. “It has allowed everyone to be creative and maybe even try something that we would’ve never done before,” she said.

Junior Grace Fields echoed that sentiment. “The whole bake-off experience was really great because it allowed me to take a stab at playwriting, something I have wanted to do for awhile but never attempted," she said.

"It was a good distraction from what we are going through right now.”

For playwright and director Riley Letendre the bake-off and the performance have been very helpful. “The writing allowed me to kind of get every dark thought and emotion out of my head, so I could take in happiness again," she said.

"Directing helps me talk to people, and it is preparing me for bigger things I want to do in the future!”

The event aptly titled "The Show Must Go On(line)!" will premiere in the MIA Performing Arts' YouTube channel at 7 p.m. on Friday, May 8 and Saturday, May 9, according to a school press release.

All eight plays, including Dayett's, will premiere over the course of the two nights with each play lasting approximately 10 to 20 minutes. The event is free but the public is encouraged to donate to the Performing Arts' GoFundMe page

Omar Rodríguez Ortiz is a community reporter for Naples Daily News and Marco Eagle. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram as @Omar_fromPR, and on Facebook. Support his work by subscribing to Naples Daily News.