We put together an 8 week workshop for TIP Youth to allow a group of students to create their own musical, to be performed over zoom, based on a the "Hero Academy" material from Make Your Own Musicals.
Creating a musical from scratch is a daunting prospect and we would not have been able to do this without having a framework to begin with. The group is made up of teenagers, and they really liked the idea of some sort of school for super heroes where they all got to play peers. This gave us boundaries to work with and a strong theme. We expanded on the material provided in the pack and took some of its ideas, like using voice overs for teachers, to help us create new scenes and our own plot.
We started by having each student come up with their own super hero power and origin story, which we then turned into monologues that we are using in an interview style through the show. Once they had a strong sense of their characters we started to work on the opening song.
The pack contained backing tracks for three songs. We decided that we would make these all ensemble numbers and write the lyrics and melody together as a group. We also wrote two solo songs from scratch to add in to the musical.
This course did involve a lot of improv and it is hard work to write new scenes and to come up with ideas. Doing this over zoom was a challenge because everything is so quiet that making a suggestion felt much harder than it would have been if we had all be sitting comfortably in the same room as each other. This did mean that at first it was hard to get the students to suggest things, as they were unsure of how the group would react, but we did our best to encourage all suggestions as you can't tell where a scene or a story line could go. We used the rhyming sheets that came with the packs and also created word maps to help us come up with ideas.
One benefit of using zoom was that we were able to record the improv scenes and parts of the rehearsals. I would then review the scenes and take the best lines and ideas from these to help write the script. I also did this with the choreography and the melody lines that the students suggested.
One thing I loved is that the group came up with the concepts of unity and working together as a team. That they would be a class of super hero students who know that it is better to work together, but who would at first fail to do that and then apologize and fix their mistakes. They wrote lyrics like "side by side, stronger together". I was fascinated as most teen dramas I see tend to have a lot of characters who treat each other badly and this group did not want to write scenes like that.
We've got powers it's a plus but they're not the thing that will define us
We have searched deep inside to discover our true pride
Bonds of friendship that grow give the best success we know
It's our time to shine, look at us now!
Creating choreography that will work over zoom was tricky but we did not get too hung up on the fact that you can't see every student's feet or that some of them have very little room to move. We did try to keep the choreography simple but this was a student driven show and we were happy to see them create even if there could have been cleaner or simpler steps used.
We picked a simple super hero uniform of a lime green cape and mask and a purple t-shirt worn with dark trousers or a skirt. We designed a logo for the school that we had printed on the t-shirt. We use some simple props, but couldn't have too many as we needed to be able to ship these to each student.
Singing together over zoom as a group is not great, so each student has recorded their parts for the ensemble numbers and we have created a track with these. They will dance live and perform the scenes live. We have video clips for "what they are doing in five years" and created some video and animation to add in super-hero effects. We also had to record some lines in advance as some performers are playing their super hero character and a teacher. The teachers lines will be played as sound cues. The two solo songs will be sung live, but this does mean the students having to play the backing tracks themselves to avoid the lag of the stage manager sharing it over zoom.
In order to play the video and sound cues and to do things like go to black between scenes we have a stage manager zoom user that is running a virtual camera. We spotlight this user when we want them to be what the audience sees and we have found that to be much quicker than using zoom to share video. It is an added piece of technology that can go wrong, as the virtual camera did crash during a run-through, but when it works everything is much smoother.
In the end we have around 50 minutes of new material and I am excited to see the online performance this Sunday.