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Chicago Academy For The Arts Expands Limits Of Virtual Stage Theatre With Green Screens

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Theatres went dark 13 months ago – with stages shutting down across the world.

Occasionally, we've seen actors pull off performances over Zoom. But CBS 2's Lauren Victory on Tuesday morning took us inside one Chicago high school taking their virtual play to a whole other level.

The Chicago Academy for the Arts, 1010 W. Chicago Ave., has got the lights, the camera, and the action – but we're not talking about a film crew. The camera is there because COVID-19 still has the audience watching virtually, but the action is happening in person.

"You've been left with one of two scenarios, which is one, I'm seeing you in a box in a corner of my computer - or else I'm seeing you in a mask," said theatre chair Ben Dicke.

Dicke figured out a coronavirus workaround for both theatre problems – green screens, like we use in our weather forecasts.

The Chicago Academy for the Arts stage and six other spots in the school are now converted.

"This used to be an English classroom," Chicago Academy of the Arts senior Natalee Hapaniewski said of one space now pressed into ChromaKey service.

Green screens enable tricks like flying – not exactly something you can do behind a laptop.

"Over Zoom, it's very – it's just one camera right in front of your face," said senior Madelaine Steffen.

Production magic will also allow actors to remove their masks during some parts of the live show. Viewers will see Hapaniewski with her best friend when they're not really together – they're in completely different rooms.

"Letting the audience read my facial features is something that's really important to storytelling," Hapaniewski said.

"I'm really honored to be, not a guinea pig, but doing this as kind of the first time this has ever been done," Steffen said.

There are still plenty of technical glitches to work through, but that's what rehearsal is for.

"The question of why did we make this so complicated for ourselves? We're asking ourselves every day," Dicke said.

But they are succeeding in fighting back against COVID's restraints on creativity.

The virtual curtain rises on May 1 and 2. Four performances of the play, "She Kills Monsters," will be streamed live on YouTube.

More information and tickets are available here.

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