Virtual Rehearsals- Generic Mounts A Chorus Line at a Distance
Updated: Dec 5, 2020
Words by Moriah Joy. Photos courtesy of Generic Theater.
While virtual rehearsals are not a new premise, they’re usually the exception and not the rule. With stay-at-home orders in place, Generic Theatre’s cast of A Chorus Line had to get creative in how they would conduct both auditions and rehearsals while allowing for the same level of collaboration in a typical show and maintain safe practices during the pandemic. For those not familiar with the show, A Chorus Line follows the story of 26 different actors all auditioning for a spot to be in the “chorus line” of a Broadway show. However, because the stay-at-home order went in place before auditions were able to take place in person, the cast didn’t have the same kind of experience that is the central premise for the show.
Erin Matteson, who plays Judy Turner, also known for her work in Sweet Charity, Spamalot, and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, commented on their audition process for the show. “The things that we think or the things that really do run through your mind [during a typical audition], ‘God, I hope I get it.’ ‘How many people do they need?’ ‘What’s happening next?’ It’s funny to me because our audition experience was nothing like that, it was virtual. Sending in our videos ourselves- it’s kind of ironic that it’s not this experience that we actually have for this show even though we may have had it for other shows that we’ve been in before.”
There were a lot of mixed feelings on how the production staff were going to approach the online rehearsals ranging from nervous and apprehensive to just being happy to have a routine amidst chaos. The director Shon M. Stacy, also known for his work on Assassins, Chess, and Parade, outlined how they’ve been tackling such a feat.
“Friday will tell you what the next week looks like. I’ll state these characters are doing this song [then give them a PDF and] rehearsal tracks are also broken out by [voice] part… or if it’s character driven, you get a different recording track for that. So on Friday what we do is say here’s the song take all your time. Friday you also get a video of choreography. So Saturday… while I have no false impressions that people are going to sit there for hours, we want it to be at your own pace. During that time you know, really dedicate… put some time into it. Sunday night we meet for our first WebEx of the week and we call that our ‘choreographer’s office hours.’ We all get on Zoom and it’s ‘Hey, can you break this down?’… Monday we all get together for Karla Robinson’s office hours and that is ‘Okay you guys have all had some time with the music, here are some things that I need as a conductor and a music director.’ …Tuesday then is my office hours and that is ‘You’ve learned a song and you’ve learned a dance, now let’s start talking about characters’. And so then we don’t meet again until the next Friday… but in that time we ask them to send us a voice recording… and send us a video of you dancing for honest in the moment feedback and we’ve been having this back and forth which has been great. And then we just rinse lather, repeat.”
While this production has found their rhythm for rehearsals, they faced other challenges in mounting the show. The show is extremely dance heavy and the choreography is iconic to many in the theatre community, along with the fact that there are many moments where movement is outlined by the dialogue or the lyrics as to what the actors are supposed to be doing. They were given the choice of sticking with the original choreography or coming up with new choreography specifically for their production and they decided to bring a new and original take to the community.
To help keep the ideas fresh, the production staff consists of four choreographers who have split different sections to collaborate on or tackle solo. One of the choreographers is Coral Mapp, known for her choreography on Legally Blonde (won Best Choreography from AltDaily), First Date the Musical, and Little Night Music. “It’s one of those shows that I really connect with. It’s been on the top of my dream show list forever… When you’ve spent most of your life memorizing the original choreography in your bedroom, it’s hard to retrain your brain. It really does force you to think outside the box and push yourself to create new material.”
Choreographer Amy Harbin, who has also choreographed Sweet Charity, Beauty and the Beast, and Cinderella, expanded on the sentiment by adding, “Doing something that fits the words they’re saying but not the exact copyrighted [choreography] is an interesting challenge. Shon Stacey has been really awesome in just saying let your creativity go, especially since the four of us come from different backgrounds and have different styles that are our thing. We’re able to use those to enhance the show.”
While all have had to adapt their teaching and learning styles, the cast and crew seem to have excellent communication with one another that allows for creativity and artistry to flourish in a digital environment.
Coral Mapp: “To be completely honest, I was skeptical at the beginning. How do you teach material virtually, how do you give notes, how do you fine tune the dances? All those questions have melted away.”
Shon M. Stacy: “If I were to have a crystal ball and say you gotta do a big musical next year but you can’t get together and you have to do everything… digitally what show works better for that? [A Chorus Line] lends itself to be helpful in this kind of weird environment. The schedule and the process look the same for me, but the way we’re doing it is different.”
Amy Harbin: “Not being able to physically show them or physically put their body in the position I need them to be has been a little difficult. So I’ve had to use a lot more verbal instructions and critiques in trying to figure out ‘Okay, this is what I want to see. How do I describe that in a way that they’re going to understand what I’m talking about because they can’t see me’… [and] trying to adapt- how do I teach this section where you have to travel forty feet, how do I teach it in the space of my living room where you are also learning in the space of your living room.”
Erin Matteson: “I think [the digital rehearsals enhanced our engagement with the piece]… from a singing perspective I think it’s going to make us better singers and more accurate because you’re forced to hear yourself sing every little note… and likewise for dancing- I think it’s going to be a very clean and crisp show for the audience to enjoy.”
As of right now the cast is still planning on opening the show on June 26th, with potentially only a week of in person rehearsal and a tech week. For everyone who is a part of this production, their passion and dedication to the arts is apparent not only in the way that they speak about the project but the very fact that they are dedicating so much to the endeavor.
Erin Matteson: “To my knowledge we’re going to be the only ones ready to go whenever this thing lifts. I think that’s important for the people involved but also for the community that we’re gonna be ready with this touching story when this is all said and done. One of the songs is called ‘What I Did for Love’ and I think this experience kinda speaks to that.”
Shon M. Stacy: “These are people who are passionate about a show, for a lot of people this is a bucket list show so I think makes it [their dedication] stronger and the fact that we’re doing it in this environment… if we could actually pull this off, what an accomplishment it would be just for arts in general [but] especially for a local theatre here in the community.”
During this time of isolation, we are reminded of the importance of community whether it’s experienced through virtual interactions or in person when we’re able to gather again safely. But we are also reminded of the importance of arts, whether it is allowing for artists to create or allowing the masses to enrich their lives.
Amy Harbin: “Well one [way that theatre is important] is the way we can just see another human being… having that communal experience, normally is impactful just having audience members sitting around you when you’re watching a show or having other cast members near you when you’re in a show is very powerful.”
Coral Mapp: “Keep creating art. We need art now more than ever. Also, please stay inside unless you absolutely have to leave. Flatten the curve so we can all experience live theatre together again.”
For more information on the show please visit Generic Theater’s website for tickets, dates, and show times.