ASPIRE artistic director Anna Kerrigan was never in doubt the highly-anticipated show she leads must go on.
Aspire is the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle Catholic Schools Office's creative and performing arts program, which culminates each year in an original production.
Rehearsals had started for the 2020 production, The Pecking Order, ahead of its scheduled August showing. Then COVID-19 hit.
"Every year we write the show for the kids we have that year," Ms Kerrigan said.
"For a lot of kids it was their last year of Aspire, they'd been in it for seven years, and we wanted them to have some kind of experience.
So I said 'Let's film it as a theatre production'."
The cast of 150 students rehearsed via Zoom and only returned to practicing in-person, in small groups, in term four.
They met as a full cast for the first time last week, before the first of four days of filming in ensembles and in front of small audiences began on Saturday.
The production will be screened at the Civic Theatre at 1pm and 6pm on February 7 and at schools across the diocese from February 11.
"It's better than cancelling, I felt that would have been easy and disappointing for so many kids," she said.
"The script written [with students' input] would then go to waste because you can't do it with another cast.
"We had a strong acting ensemble and I felt like we all needed something to look forward to. I won't admit defeat.
"Plus, what if this is the world for the next two years? Are we not going to do anything? It shows them we're just rethinking the way we do theatre, sometimes you have to find a new way.
"In the arts you have to work hard if you want people to appreciate it, keep putting things out there."
The show follows a flock of birds grappling with both mysterious disappearances from their group and an internal leadership struggle.
They suspect either an animal or students - from nearby Camp Capacity and also discussing leadership - are behind the kidnappings.
All Saints College Maitland St Mary's campus year 12 student Bridget Power, 17, plays the "villainous" camp owner, Aysha Carefree in her sixth Aspire appearance and St Clare's Taree year 11 student Conner Langley, 16, plays the "obnoxious" peacock Dazzler in his fifth appearance.
"This was the first thing I cried about when we went into lockdown, thinking 'what if Aspire does not go ahead?' " Bridget said.
Both are "so grateful" to still be able to share the story.
Conner said despite challenges transitioning from Zoom to face to face rehearsals, "everyone in the cast has done phenomenally".