Annenberg Radio

Student-run theatre company to originate a new Zoom musical

Musical Theatre Repertory, one of the most well-known student-run theatre companies on campus, has created a new musical, filmed remotely and entirely on Zoom.

The pandemic brought live theatre productions to a halt. However, one USC theatre company decided to try something completely new, and originate a new musical. Shot completely remote using Zoom, the musical follows a group of college students as they navigate the global pandemic.

For the foreseeable future, theaters are closed. Shows are canceled, some are moved online, but many theater artists don’t feel right performing shows over Zoom. Here’s one artist: USC graduate student and director Marco Zappala.

If we try to do a traditional theater show, it would be a diet theater show. It would not have that theater quality.

Enter USC’s Musical Theater Repertory, or MTR for short. Zappala is working with them this semester. As of the most well-known student-run theater companies on campus, they wanted to do something really exciting this year. But when they couldn’t present their usual work on stage the company decided to do something new over Zoom. For most theater students, not performing is simply not an option, says Zappala.

What I think extends to every person involved with this project, is that it is our lifeline. You know, it’s not... it’s not even a question of ‘what can we do?’ It’s a matter of ‘I have to do something.’

But singing into a grainy Zoom camera instead of a packed auditorium is new territory for MTR. So at first… it was easier to know what they did NOT want to do, says MTR’s co-president Sarah Campbell.

And a big kind of thought was that we really didn’t want to do a Zoom-sical or a musical that was written for the stage, right?

So instead, they shopped around for some plays that suited the new world of Zoom, and along came Unprecedented.

[Audio from “Unprecedented” Song: Unprecedented]

The story follows a group of college friends, all sitting in their childhood bedrooms, dealing with the issues that came to us with the pandemic: mental health, graduating online, and of course... relationships.

[Audio from “Unprecedented” Song: Let Go]

Director Zappala says the actors found the story and the ways it would be told over Zoom compelling…

It just attracts those people that are saying yes to this opportunity because I feel it’s kind of like- rise to the occasion or get lost behind it.

Even though the cast and crew were thrilled to put on a new show like this, of course, it has challenges, says Campbell…

I got a video last night of one of the actors recording because, they had, like a mini–we sent them, it was foam and cardboard gaffe taped together and created the sound booth with microphones and pop filters. Like. to see a video of them, like. recording in their bedroom was just insanity. And I was like, man, this is happening! This exists!

Despite these challenges, Zappala says that the ensemble is able to thrive on the Zoom platform.

What was the biggest draw for me with a project was that this had never been done before. It feels like an organic next stage of where the industry might be heading to and especially with Covid, especially with the need to keep ourselves safe. But the fact that in times of such isolation, we are even hungrier for that connectivity.

Connectivity over Zoom is not live, in-person, human interaction, but the show must go on, and for now -- online is what we have. Brittney Quach plays the lead in Unprecedented and says the cast and script completely lent themselves to this new acting format.

We’ve just been acting off each other through Zoom and with the way the musical is, it’s very much like a lot of FaceTiming. So it’s not us trying to emulate us being in the same physical space, we’re just trying to portray it as what it is. Like, it’s a lot of FaceTime, it’s a lot of people talking through the phone, and personal struggles are happening.

Unprecedented premieres online on May 6th. Shows like this, that take place in a pandemic-riddled world, might be written and produced for a long time to come now-- after all, it is something that’s impacted our lives for more than a year. But for a group of college students to license, cast, tape, produce, and originate an entire show on Zoom, well, that’s Unprecedented.

[Audio from “Unprecedented “Song: I Got A Feeling]

For Annenberg Media… I’m Charlotte Phillipp.