Alyssa Bui ‘23
As you may know, this past Friday was opening night for the musical, The Theory of Relativity by Neil Bartram— the Close’s first virtual musical! Since the play, the theatre program has technologically advanced and is more adjusted to a virtual platform. Thanks to faculty and thespian leadership, the winter musical was able to transition to Zoom while maintaining normal aspects of a production such as musical numbers, costumes, and more! According to co-Thespian President Eleanor Boomhower, our Thespian leadership team has had many conversations with Mr. Bishop and Mr. Straub in order to figure out how to “make [the musical] still rewarding, filled with community, and also how to make it high quality without being super-taxing on everyone working on it”.
From an outsider’s perspective, a virtual musical may seem strange and confusing. That isn’t wrong. However, few actually realize how much thought and hard work was put into this production. For the past three months, castmembers attended zoom rehearsals on an almost daily basis. With castmembers dedicating almost 100 hours to the show, rehearsals consisted of learning music and choreography, acting, and lots of recording. As one of the production coordinators, I witnessed many of the behind-the-scenes aspects of the musical. Thus, I’m here to give you all a better idea of how the musical you (most definitely) watched earlier this week came together! This article will focus on three aspects of the production: singing, acting, and dancing.
So first, how did the musical numbers exist when actors couldn’t sing together? The answer is the use of digital recordings. After learning music, cast members recorded their individual tracks to meet dozens of submission deadlines. Each of the 24 castmembers submitted 14 to over 30 recordings for this production. For many, this process was stressful and time consuming since singers redid their recordings many times. Teddy Palmore says that he made “like one hundred recordings since the beginning of the show”. Mr. Straub informed me that students created around 400 tracks. He guessed that “between creating the master tracks, compiling cast members’ recordings, and editing the mix, [he] probably [spent] at least 55 hours”. From these recordings, he created the final audio tracks that Mr. Lampasona aligned with the visuals.
In addition to recording audio tracks, castmembers separately produced muted video recordings of dialogue, dancing, and singing. To produce these recordings, the cast split into breakout rooms. In each of these rooms, a production coordinator or adult would use the record function of zoom while sharing computer sound. While it seems simple, recordings required a lot of work! Before rehearsals, green screens, ring lights, and computers were meticulously arranged to prevent poor image quality. On top of that, actors had to imitate eye contact and human interaction. For every scene, song, and transition, we recorded at around four takes so that Mr. Lampasona—who ended up working with around 300 shots— could make each scene look as good as possible! He spent around 300 hours of impressive digital work for this show.
If we look at the longest scene, Mr. Lampasona explains that it’s “six minutes of twenty-four people”, which gets complicated. “Getting all twenty-four people, with all twenty-four looks, in twenty-four locations for each time they appear” took him multiple days. In addition to placement and effects, Mr. Lampasona aligned all of the audio tracks to the video recordings: “even one-fiftieth of a second sometimes was crucial to getting the sound to line up with [the actors’] mouths”. Since this was a dance number, he also paid attention to how synced the dancers were!
So, let’s talk about dancing. Usually, castmembers dance and sing simultaneously. However, that’s changed since the audio was separate. For this show, we worked with three choreographers who taught dance numbers via zoom. Ms. Pierce, who choreographed the ensemble pieces, articulated that “it’s different when people are on a stage versus when they are on a screen, it was definitely a challenge, but it was also really cool to try and do something different”. Some of these obstacles included lagging zooms and “finding a middleground that everyone looked good doing” since incorporating soloists within dance numbers was difficult over zoom. For Kendall Brady, dancing with the constraints of a zoom box could be “ frustrating”, although seeing others on zoom was “helpful when [she] was confused”.
Overall, the theatre faculty and castmembers created a wonderful performance despite the confines of zoom and covid-19. Next time you see a thespian who worked on the show, make sure to congratulate them now that you better understand how much work went into The Theory of Relativity!