Virtual joint Needs Improvment and BETCo show leaves audiences laughing and crying



The two upper-level drama classes joined together for their first performance of the year, with each class performing for about 45 minutes. Needs Improvment started off with lighthearted comedy before the show switched to a much more serious tone with BETCo’s discussion of mental health.

From an IHOP drive-through-deathmatch, to an obsessive collection of bright-yellow highlighters, the Needs Improvment and Brookline Educational Theatre Company (BETCo) performance did not hesitate to spark heaps of virtual laughter in a thrilling Zoom atmosphere.

During their first show of the year, Needs Improvment and BETCo projected sincere, carefree and ebullient scenery to a virtual audience, who watched the performance over a Zoom Webinar on Friday, Nov 20.

The event started off with a warm greeting from Needs Improvment’s juniors and seniors, all presented in ridiculous attire such as funky hats, reddened noses, wholesome-colored clothing and long, beaded necklaces. Drama teacher Mark VanDerzee introduced an improvisational activity for the group: “Growing Shrinking Machine.”

Seniors Yuen Ler Chow, Nicky Glassman, Phoebe Kallaher and Eric Traub, along with junior Grace Thompson were eager to participate. When VanDerzee turned to the audience for suggestions via the Zoom chat, one viewer was quick to come up with Chow’s character: Frankenson Fitzgerald the Fifth, on a search for his lost chickens. As Frankenson Fitzgerald the Fifth, Chow demonstrated phenomenal improvisations by making sure to exaggerate the use of his space. Additionally, Thompson’s entrance into the scene displayed benevolent satire as she used a nasally voice to express her affection towards her scene partners.

Of course, any virtual show comes with its own set of technical difficulties. The very beginning of the performance started off with VanDerzee jamming to music while thinking that he was sharing his screen. After some time, VanDerzee was quick to realize that the playbill of the performance was never shared with the audience. Occasionally, there were also times when actors forgot to unmute themselves or turn their videos on. Although this was indeed noticeable, the actors bestowed proficiency in covering for one another in those types of situations.

Seniors Jack Reisman and Phoebe Kallaher and Junior Sammy Yee alongside Teacher Mark Vanderzee preparing for a game of “Time Bomb.” The activity involved repeating the same scene in gradually decreasing amounts of time. (VALENTIA BURLAK/SAGAMORE STAFF)

In another riotous activity called “Time Bomb,” junior Sammy Yee, senior Jack Reisman and Kallaher had to act out the same scene (a conversation between a good cop, bad cop and worst cop) five times. However, every time they had to repeat the scene, their time to do so got shorter and shorter. By the fifth time repeating their scene, they only had four seconds to carry the overall message to the audience. With Reisman’s positive attitude as “good cop” and Yee’s aggressive punching, a comedic, yet understandable message was conveyed.

To conclude their performance, Needs Improvment finished off with a game of “God.” Playing the role of God, senior Emelia Gauch had the power to stop a scene and change it in whatever way she pleased, twisting and turning each scene into multiple burlesque scenarios.

In this activity, Thompson took on the role of a little girl, while Reisman and Glassman appeared on screen as the little girl’s parents. Thompson’s “little girl” voice, as well as her purified innocence, added comedic relief to the scene, especially when her parents attempted to scold her for punching a wall. Using her quick thinking, Thompson quickly fired up, addressing Reisman as she said, “But dad, why did you punch a lady at the gas station then?” This created a moment of hilarity, as the actors tried their hardest not to laugh at one another as the scene flew by. Although in shock that his flamboyant secret had been exposed, Reisman responded with, “Because she was catcalling your father.” Fundamentally, the actors were able to keep the scene high-spirited and farce all the way through.

Senior Din Klein and junior Camryn Lezama in a scene titled “Interrogation.” The chilling scene explored self-harm and torture, leaving the audience shaken. (VALENTIA BURLAK/SAGAMORE STAFF)

Following Needs Improvment, BETCo’s performance was largely centered around mental health. One of the scenes, called Interrogation, spotlighted Celeste (senior Din Klein) getting questioned by Detective Reid, portrayed by junior Camryn Lezama. Although one would have thought that a harmless investigation was in session, it was not until Lezama pulled out a taser to force answers out of Klein that this scene’s true purpose was revealed. The pain in Klein’s voice, as well as her physical responses to being tased by Lezama caused rather disturbing scenery, creating a sense of honest discomfort.

Lezama’s negativity towards Klein, such as telling her that she is a failure, led Klein’s character to start losing worth within herself. This created a feeling of sympathy for Klein, as her mistreatment did not go unnoticed. Perhaps the most deranged part of this scene was when Klein picked up the taser in order to tase herself. This moment produced horrific sincerity due to the Klein’s facial expressions and dramatic choices in movement. Because of Klein and Lezama’s truthful work, the importance of acknowledging one’s own worth was indeed signified, leaving a long-lasting emotional impact throughout the scene.

In another scene called Letter to a friend, Keira (senior Eve Jones) writes a heartfelt letter to her best friend. Performed entirely over a monologue, Jones reflects upon how naive it was of her to believe that her friends’ scars were from falling. Upon the deep message this scene brings upon self-harm, Jones exclaims, “I can’t imagine my life without you in please don’t leave me. At least not like that.” This scene was one to remember, as Jones’ remarks towards her friend displayed a superlative manner, leaving many viewers speechless.

With scenes that conveyed both the comedic and deeply sorrowful aspects of mental health, as well as quick-witted improvisations, the joint BETCo and Needs Improvment show reminded us that there is always a light at the end of the tunnel.