Venice High School Presents: You Can’t Take it With You


Amy Carranza, A & E Editor

It’s a normal afternoon walking down Venice Boulevard. The bell has just rung at Venice High and a mass of students wearing costumes begins to mobilize. One is speeding through the crosswalk in a light grey suit carrying white polos, while another is in a bright red maiden dress. 

Little do you know, these students are traveling a 0.3 miles distance to Beethoven Elementary School to run and perform a play over the course of a week.

After entering the magenta doors, the auditorium is already hustling to get ready. In the audience of people affiliated with the production, the slightest disturbances echo: phone alarms, giggles, shoe shuffling. Just before opening curtains, the lights begin to dim, sudden darkness floods the room—and rolling!

“Action! Pause! Cut!” are frequent phrases you hear in the background of a film studio session, but now, I’ve heard them myself on the set of a high school theater production.

Certainly the Venice High School Theatre Department has been challenged logistically as in-person performances have been stopped by COVID-19.

Since the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year, the department’s director, Bianca Andrews, has been working through the direction of George S. Kaufman’s You Can’t Take It with You.

The production was filmed in Beethoven Elementary auditorium. Using a set of three cameras provided by the school, students shot the performance from the audience’s perspectives. It streams on Broadway On-Demand tomorrow to Sunday.

Set in 1930s New York, the family drama stars the Sycamores, a kooky family who each have their own quirks, and life goes on as well as it can be—until Alice Sycamore, the black swan of the bunch, brings home her fiancé, Tony Kirby. He is a man of wealth and the son of a prim, proper, and well-to-do family—the total opposite of the Sycamores. 

Both families interrogate the marriage and question whether or not it’s possible—or are they just too different? 

Andrews and the group have experienced ups and downs this year. The students have been adjusting to performing in person after last year’s Zoom-based production, and many students are barely getting their taste of theatre for the first time.

The Venice High Theatre Department presented The Virtual Killer: A Zoomdunnit Mystery at the end of the 2020-2021 school year. The play was inspired by the murder mystery game, Clue, and featured wacky characters made by the group. 

More importantly, it was performed through Zoom. 

Last year was extremely difficult trying to rehearse through a Zoom meeting, and it’s almost as if things have gotten close to normal this semester,” Andrews said. “Being in the same room has allowed us to make props together and really get to know each other.”

In contrast to last year’s play, some obstacles were eliminated by using Zoom as part of the show. Avoiding the concerns for costumes, a stage, and wearing a mask in-person was a convenience too.

For better or worse, that wasn’t the case anymore, as the group had to worry about the set arrangement in Andrews’s classroom, rehearsals, the costumes, and pandemic protocols.

“The advantage of being in-person is that we are able to interact, create relationships between the characters and create the world of the show,” Andrews said.

“Some of the disadvantages are that we need to rehearse, use and store props, and build a set, which is all next to impossible when we don’t have a theater to rehearse in, turning an English class room into a New York apartment and back every day,” she added.

Another big issue that presented changes for the group was the decision to film the play.

Freshman Allison Cunningham, who plays Alice Sycamore, agrees that the COVID-19 pandemic still is a substantial obstacle to making the production.

“COVID-19 has changed a lot of things,” Cunningham said before filming the play. “The big one being we can’t perform in front of an audience and instead, we have to record our whole production.”

Even though filming the play is the most risk-free way for people to enjoy it, Cunningham addresses that because of its nature, not only will the actors be affected, but also the audience’s experience. 

“We won’t have the audience interaction that gives live theater its uniqueness,” she said. “It’s just overall not going to feel the same as live theater, but it is our safest way to still put on a production.”

Junior Summer Hamzeh, who plays Alice’s mother, Penny Sycamore, also shares the ease that comes with filming theater.

“I think that performing on video is both easier and harder at the same time because, on one hand, we don’t have an audience to really get stage fright in front of,” she said.

“But, I think the audience is a big part of feeling like the play is this big moment, and when it isn’t there, it’s a bit less momentous and exciting,” she said.

Of course, the pandemic does not limit the possibility of a silver lining.

Hamzeh believes that the success of this show will not be measured by the amount of an applause or a standing ovation. Instead, all the hard work everyone has put into this year’s in-person production will be a culminating celebration.

“It really serves as a do-over almost, as a chance to finally get to perform in-person with other people again,” she said.

Despite constant hardship, the show must go on, and the Venice High School Drama Department has done just that.

You Can’t Take It with You has reached for the stars, and will mark the beginning for many more productions at Venice High again, whether done through video, or someday, a live audience.

As a reporter and a camera crew member for a day of filming, I was a part of this revolutionary experience. Every trial and technological advance that came with contributing to this show may not have been possible in years past. 

The creativity and drive of the theatre department has truly fueled its life. 

I witnessed the quickness of the actors and their scenes, the endless mistakes that are bought with a 50-50 chance of forgetting your character’s lines. I had to have the patience to stand in front of a tripod for two hours just to capture 10 minutes of film. 

It was all worth it in the end.

“Either way, any opportunity to perform is something that I’m grateful for, and I’ll continue to do it no matter what it takes,” Hamzeh said.