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COVID & the Arts: Snow White on Zoom

Davenport Junior Theater
the Zoom version of Snow White

It’s a brave new world at Davenport Junior Theatre – as the new artistic director is overseeing the first virtual production in the 69-year-history of the program. 

After 11 years, Daniel Sheridan was succeeded this year as artistic director of the nation’s second-oldest children’s theater by Ben Gougeon, a 43-year-old actor-director who is helming “Snow White 2.Zoom” – a free online production opening Saturday, Nov. 7. Sheridan remains as performing arts supervisor for Davenport Parks and Recreation.

Credit Davenport Junior Theatre
Dav. Junior Theater Artistic Director Ben Gougeon

This is the first time in the history of the organization that the performing arts supervisor and artistic director are separate people.

Gougeon has worked at DJT since September of last year as an instructor, then theater programs coordinator, and was chosen last February as the new artistic director, to start this fall (on top of his coordinator duties).

Founded in 1951, the Davenport Junior Theater offers classes (both virtual and in-person) and camps year-round in theater and dance for students ages 3 to 18. Classes are as varied as acting, improvisation, musical theatre, puppetry and theatrical design. In the quickly-growing DJT dance division – now in its 9th year – young dancers learn poise and confidence while having fun and making friends in a noncompetitive dance environment. Summers see a myriad of camps and other activities for kids of all ages. Through all these opportunities, DJT prepares kids for a lifetime of success, no matter what path their lives may take.

Credit Davenport Junior Theatre
from the new Snow White

The new “Snow White” features the winner of the student new play competition (“The Evil Queen Returns” by 12-year-old Julia Reagan of Davenport), scenes from Sheridan’s adaptation of “Snow White” and original content created by students. The show – in which students perform from home -- involves 18 kids from around the QCA, ranging in age from 10-18. They are the actors, directors, writers, and technicians. 

Local professional theater artists have worked with the kids, creating a live performance that will be livestreamed and available to watch for free on the DJT website, YouTube channel, and Facebook page. Gougeon says most students got green screens (for virtual backgrounds), costumes, and props.

“We got this winner of the play competition and decided to pair that with scenes from our previous production of ‘Snow White,’ which Daniel wrote for the 2014 season. And around that, created kind of a framing device of a talk show.”

In the show, the junior theater's longtime mascot, Showtime Pal, is hosting the talk show with the seven dwarfs as guests. While looking back on scenes from “Snow White,” the dwarfs reveal their side of the story, while Showtime Pal has a surprise of his own to reveal. Gougeon says students have been the driving force in the creation of the show.

“The thing I’ve tried to lean into, especially for this, is our longtime mission statement of ‘theater for kids, by kids,’ and one thing I’ve tried to do as artistic director is really empower the kids to create work and at the end of the day, it’s their theater. It’s not my theater; it’s not Daniel’s theater. But it’s the theater for the kids. I’ve really tried to let them in on the act of creation for this show at least.”

His view on producing theater now is, he’d rather do virtual, instead of in person with a bunch of restrictions like masks and distancing. The talk show format is ideal for Zoom and a screen setting, basically producing a TV show. Students do miss the social element in not being together to rehearse. Gougeon lets kids socialize on Zoom and encourages them to use the chat feature to support each other.

“It can be so impersonal on Zoom, so we’ve really tried to encourage – hey, we’re still all here together, even though we’re not physically together. We are still creating this community here.”

Doing a new virtual has really stretched the boundaries and talents of DJT staff, students, and families. For the last six years before moving to the Q-C in September 2019, Gougeon mainly acted in commercials, TV, and film, and relates that to kids about working on camera, compared to working on stage.

“It’s been a huge testament to our families and parents, because normally they just drop the kids at the theater and we take care of the rest. But with this, they’ve had to do basically setting up little TV studios in their home for their students to perform in. So we’ve sent out resources for them, as far as positioning of your camera, positioning of your lights in the room, so your kids are well lit and we can hear them.”

The new “Snow White” will be performed on Nov. 7 and 14 at 4 p.m., and Sundays, Nov. 8 and 15 at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. It will be available at www.davenportjuniortheatre.org, the junior theater YouTube channel, and Facebook Page.

A native of Detroit, Herb Trix began his radio career as a country-western disc jockey in Roswell, New Mexico (“KRSY, your superkicker in the Pecos Valley”), in 1978. After a stint at an oldies station in Topeka, Kansas (imagine getting paid to play “Louie Louie” and “Great Balls of Fire”), he wormed his way into news, first in Topeka, and then in Freeport Illinois.