“It’s Been Quite A Process”: Ottoson Drama Club Puts On Remote Musical

“It’s Been Quite A Process”: Ottoson Drama Club Puts On Remote Musical

Samantha R.

The past year has been a difficult and unusual one for the performing arts. Shuttered theaters and restrictions on indoor group gatherings have caused theater groups to adapt to a situation unlike any  they have ever experienced before, and the Ottoson Drama Club and their annual spring musical is no exception. The drama club will be performing High School Musical Jr. this weekend, in a virtual, prerecorded format. Ms. Fernandes, who has directed the Ottoson musicals for the past nine years and is directing and co-producing the show (along with Ms. Smith and Ms. Flynn), feels that the club’s experience producing an online show has put even a relatively experienced director such as herself back at square one. “It felt very much like the first time I ever did the show nine years ago in [terms of] learning on the job,” she told the Insider in a recent interview.


Many theater groups have produced virtual performances during 2020 and 2021, but the format in which shows are presented vary depending on the show and performers. Lucía G., an eighth-grader who is playing the leading role of Gabriella Montez, described the elements of the drama club’s show format. “We’re employing four different types of media to make [the musical] happen. Zoom recordings, audio recordings, individual recordings, and in-person recordings,” she said. Actors were responsible for practicing their parts and then submitting individual recordings for Ms. Fernandes and co-producer Ms. Smith to edit, and for showing up to Zoom and in-person recordings. Both Lucía and Ms. Fernandes described having much less in-person (synchronous, in Zoom terms) rehearsal time than in a normal musical, but they both emphasized that this did not mean that less time and work were committed to the musical. “Independently, you definitely need[ed] to practice more because you didn’t have that in-person time,” Lucía explained.


Though actors had to commit a lot more independent time than usual to the musical, Ms. Fernandes and her co-producers also had a great deal of work editing together all the video recordings into a seamless, finished product. When asked what he thought the most challenging part of producing a remote show was, eighth-grader Elliot D., who plays the opposite leading role Troy Bolton, said that the adults bore the brunt of the challenge. “The most challenging part is for Ms. Fernandes, [Ms. Flynn], and Ms. Smith because they have to spend a ton of time editing everything together, especially since they don’t have much experience with that,” he says. Ms. Fernandes confirms this. “It’s been quite a process,” she says, detailing the layering and synchronizing of video and audio that she and Ms. Smith have had to undertake, using editing programs such as Logic Pro and Final Cut Pro. Though she spends less time than she normally would in rehearsal, “it’s just been a lot for me on the back end of editing, chasing kids for things they had missing, that kind of thing,” she says.


Producing a remote musical has its other, non-technical challenges as well. Lucía notes how difficult it is for the cast members to get to know one another in a largely online setting. This is because, she says, many of the sixth and seventh graders were participating in a musical for the first time and weren’t acquainted with the eighth-graders in drama club. Ms. Fernandes says that she feels that she didn’t have as much control and experience working with the digital programs. “By the time I had done my seventh, eighth show, […] you’ve anticipated every problem, nothing can surprise you. And with this, everything was a surprise.” She also feels that the social aspect of drama club that comes from making connections with other kids and enjoying traditions is missing. “They’ve kind of done all of the work without any of the fun,” she says of the actors.


Despite all the challenges, there are perks and joys that come from doing theater even when we can’t gather. “Something special about doing musicals online when you can just record scenes is you don’t have to have it all memorized to present it on one final date; you can just memorize one song at a time, film it, and then you don’t have to worry about it again,” notes Elliot, and Ms. Fernandes agrees that it’s much less stressful to just have one final product ready to go. Lucía observes how wonderful it is that the drama club is doing a musical at all this year. “I think just the fact that we were able to do it remotely is incredible, because what would we be doing if we didn’t have this? […] The people who do theater found a way despite the pandemic, and we’re here, we’re doing it. And I think it’s really beautiful that we just came together despite everything.”


You can view High School Musical, Jr. on the ACMi public channel on Friday, June 11th and Saturday, June 12th at 8pm.  http://acmi.tv/publive/