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  • Peter Phillips

A Working Actor’s Journey – Live Audiences to "Virtual" and Back to LIVE!

Updated: Jun 22, 2022

As I began my new adventure performing elementary school assembly shows I could all but hear my theatre professors in my head exclaiming “This is why we taught you that!”. If only I had taken better notes!

A New Adventure!

As the newest full-time performer at SchoolAssemblies.Com, the country’s leading provider of school assembly programs, I was suddenly taking on the roles of technical director, light board op, sound op, properties manager, A/V supervisor, deck hand, stage manager,—and above all else—performer. It was a challenge that I was eager to meet. Then the world came to a screeching halt. When a new opportunity arises you want to open that door and walk in with confidence, but the pandemic broke the door. It was like a steel curtain barricading me from live, in-person performances. No kids in school, no assemblies. No assemblies, no work. The opportunity to finally be a working actor (i.e. make an income I could live on!) was ending before it began. In May 2020 my wife and I welcomed the birth of our second daughter. Isolation and lock down allowed us to spend quality time with our young family. Neither of us worked for the first three months of our baby’s life. Our toddler was able to spend a lot of time with mommy and daddy. That time was strange and frightening on a global scale. But for us it was a blessing. Fast forward to fall of 2020 as we begin to learn how the world will function after this dark time.

David Jack, founder and CEO of SchoolAssemblies had been working hard on re-working his school assembly programs to fit into a different medium—virtual. When he told me he had schools interested in booking for shows on Zoom, my initial thought was – “how do I interact with hundreds of kids muted in tiny boxes on a screen?” But David sent me the scripts and I prepared for rehearsal. He directed me to perform Bot! The Secret Life of Robots with the same energy and excitement as if the kids were sitting right in front of me. I began performing virtual shows in May 2021. At first it was odd. I had been trained for live theatre, not film or television. Having an audience I couldn’t hear, and sometimes couldn’t even see was more than an adjustment. It felt like a rehearsal and I was left wondering if the kids were actually enjoying the show? Was I engaging them enough? Thankfully the reviews from teachers, principals, and PTA members was overwhelmingly positive! We were still reaching our audience with our educational, interactive and fun school assemblies! Even with a more serious topic like bullying covered in the show, Stand Up, Step In, Speak Out, You Win, we could see that the kids were invested. They were actively participating (albeit from their homes) along with the show’s game show portions as well as the big flash mob dance finale. Doing these virtual performances was a great learning experience for me and offered the added bonus of developing my skills as an on-camera performer. We actors develop a connection with the people in the seats. Our energy hopefully engages them, reigns them into what we are conveying. In turn we feed off the energy they send us. It’s a tug of war that most often only the actors are aware is occurring. It is almost impossible to feel that connection through screens and I really missed having an audience in front of me.

Performing Assemblies Live -- Finally!

So finally things began to open up and summer of 2021 I was slated to perform a live show in New Jersey. Yes! A live audience sitting in front of me. I would finally see what it would be like to perform this school assembly in front of a few hundred elementary school students! What a rush of energy that will be! My first show consisted of an audience totaling nine kids. (Obviously it would take several months before school administrators were comfortable having large gatherings again.) But – Even with nine -- It was awesome. I had the attention of all nine students and the four teachers sitting behind them. They were engaged, interacting, and having fun! There’s an old saying—you only need an audience of one to do theatre. Well, I quickly learned that that crowd size was a rare occurrence and I would be inundated with a lot more energy in the very near future. As of this writing, school shows are back! This recent school year has sent me all across the northeast and into the Mid-Atlantic region performing Bot! The Secret World of Robots, Stand Up! Step In! Stop Bullying! Christmahanukwanzamadan!, and Spirit of America for packed school auditoriums. Seeing the kids’ faces light up as their curiosity peaks is a joy for me each and every performance. Not only do I get to be on stage every day, but I get to teach my audience too. I love my job!

by Peter Phillips #actorslife #working actor #schoolassemblies

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