In Good Company: Melinda Moore

Melinda Moore has one of those jobs that isn’t exactly pandemic proof. After all, the essence of theatre relies on close, physical interactions. But like other faculty, she’s carried on – actually more than carried on. Only weeks after Hawai‘i’s first lockdown, she led a virtual student production of “Singin’ in the Rain” and continued to teach her theatre classes via distance learning. She capped 2020 by directing an impressive, three-part audio production of “A Christmas Carol.” We spoke to the Nebraska native – a longtime teacher who has performed at Carnegie Hall and with the Boston Pops Orchestra – about her life, loves and navigating through these pandemic-challenged times.

What brought you initially to Hawai‘i five years ago?

I had been teaching in Minnesota for a long time, and I had a yearning to go on a new adventure. I have four kids, and I felt this need to explore. So while I’m a born and raised Midwesterner, my heart is really global. I just fell in love with Hawai‘i and Punahou. It’s been magical working in a place with gorgeous facilities, access to technical directors and costumers, professionals who are beautiful human beings, and of course, our students. I love their drive. I love their creativity, and I really love being in a place that is so diverse and embraces all cultures and backgrounds.

What has it been like as a teacher during this time?

I honestly think I’ve gone through a pretty major transition and time of growth during the pandemic. Again, I’m a very positive person, but this has been hard. My entire career has been based on live interaction, and last March, 90% of my curriculum wasn’t going to work. I found myself hitting a wall every day. I felt like I was in this battle with myself, doubting myself in my ability to support the kids, support my staff, everything. So I went through a couple of rocky weeks, then one morning, I woke up and just let things go. I realized I’m just going to do the best I can with what I have, and that’s all I can do. So I started planning lessons one at a time, taking things from the curriculum that wouldn’t work, and thinking about how things could be virtual. I learned to be OK with letting it go, knowing the kids will be OK – that they will still grow up to be great human beings. I started asking myself, “What can I do?” and I answered, “Well, a lot of things.”

You’ve become an unwitting expert on virtual productions. Is there anything you think will continue, even when in-person performances are allowed again?

I’d love to continue working on short “Saturday Night Live” types of skits, commercials and radio work. But honestly, I miss the interaction. I think sometimes our technology just gets in the way, and I don’t ever see myself moving to a season of productions on Webex.

Last March, “Singin’ in the Rain” was about to hit the stage. Right before the lockdown, you held one final dress rehearsal in full costume, then later, released a virtual version of the musical. What was going through your mind?

I waffled between being devastated and feeling like I needed to be a cheerleader for our students. I’m a pretty positive person, but I’m also a realist, and I saw the writing on the wall. It was really hard to be positive and pivot, but we did the best we could. I left that project feeling like we did everything we could to make it professional. At the same time, I still feel so sad for the seniors who worked so hard and didn’t get that last moment. On that last date of rehearsal, I knew this might be it, so we made a split-second decision. We had two hours. We pulled all the costumes. We called it a dress rehearsal. We invited the parents. We filmed it. And we did it. I was so proud of the staff for pulling it together so quickly. And it was fun.

Tell us about “A Christmas Carol.”

It’s a really cute script, and we have some exciting ways of utilizing our vocalists. In every show, we always try to do something to make it special to our production. So for this, I’ve cast two narrators who are singing a capella. It’ll be interwoven with the narrator lines and working off each other. It’s beautiful.

The pandemic has been trying on everyone in different ways. How have you been keeping yourself sane?

I started running, and I’m not really a runner. I also have been cooking a lot, and we love to hike. My favorite part about being in Hawai‘i is being outside. Just the fact that we can go to the beach, the park, go on hikes and breathe fresh air every day – I never take that for granted. On days where the pandemic has gotten heavy for me, just being able to go outside and take some deep breaths has changed my life.

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