By Sarah Siock
With in-person theater still on hold at Rider, the Westminster Players were tasked with the difficult challenge of creating a full-length musical from a distance. The student-run organization rose to the challenge by producing a completely virtual version of Jason Robert Brown’s “Songs for a New World” that premiered on Feb. 6 and Feb. 7.
Despite the cast performing remotely, the show still managed to provide vast scenery and several ensemble numbers. From the deck of a Spanish sailing ship in 1492 to Mrs. Claus’ home at the North Pole, “Songs for a New World” took audiences around the globe to examine the many paths that lead one to self-discovery.
The show followed five performers who all played multiple nameless characters. While each character seemed different from one another, they were all tied together by the musical’s central theme — that one moment can change anyone’s life.
“It redefines the idea that we as humans are defined by one mistake. We go about our days, not realizing that one singular, tiny moment that might not feel like anything to us could really change our life,” said sophomore musical theater major Ella Kriegel, who played woman two.
While many aspects of in-person theater are difficult to replicate for virtual shows, the Westminster Players still succeeded in creating a memorable performance.
The production was pre-recorded, however, it aired via a live stream which allowed the audience to experience the show at the same time. The cast performed in front of individual green screens that frequently changed backgrounds to signify when a new character’s story was beginning. The team that worked behind the scenes to edit together the show said crafting a virtual production was no easy task.
“In live theater, the bulk of the work is in the rehearsing and refining. For this show, there were hours upon hours of video and audio editing. Since it was virtual, it needs to have that special look to it,” said senior music education major Leigh Huber, who served as a visual editor and artistic director for the show. “If it was just a black screen with someone’s face on there, the audience is going to get very distracted. What we did was take video footage and make something happen.”
Huber explained that cast members recorded their audio and video individually, then the footage was sent to editors to piece together the performances. Without a live audience, the cast had to find new ways to be energetic while performing.
“An audience and live music propel a performer. There is an adrenaline rush. The hardest part was trying to find and capture the same energy alone in a room. However, it is still our job to leave people feeling inspired,” said Kriegel.
The editors were able to overlap video and audio so it appeared the cast was singing together for the musical’s ensemble numbers. This aspect of the production proved to be important to convey the show’s overall message. For instance, in the final song of the musical, titled “Hear My Song,” all the characters come on the screen to discover that their hopes and dreams will guide them to a new world. The theme is one that Westminster’s Players hoped would resonate with audiences.
“In times like these, it is so easy to get discouraged and say, ‘I am not going to do the things that I love’ because of all that has been lost. I hope our show gives people a sense that eventually everything will be fine. I hope it can be something beautiful that people are refreshed by, ” said senior voice performance major James Harris, who played man two and served as the show’s artistic director.
Story published in the 02/10/2021 issue of The Rider News.