April 7, 2020

Theatre Students Pour Creative Energy into Digital Rehearsals

PBA News

How do you rehearse a theatre production without a stage, lighting or props? Talent and grit.

The cast and crew of PBA’s “Big Fish” production transitioned rehearsals to ZOOM the same day that all of the University’s other courses went digital. For the dedicated theatre students and director Kyle Schnack, the show must go on.

And the show will go on in, in an abbreviated form, in the fall. Senior David Carleton, cast for the lead role of Edward Bloom, was invited back for the performance.

Elaborate set designs or over-the-top dance numbers sometimes tempt actors to hide behind the spectacle, Carleton said. With this production, as with “Hecuba” last year, all of the attention is on the actors.

“The focus is more on the storytelling and the music of the show, as opposed to the spectacle that comes with a full set, props and scene changes,” Carleton said. “It’s all laid bare at all times. It pushes us as actors to be the most vulnerable that we can be, which ends up being an awesome experience.”

While Carleton has frequently landed supporting roles in PBA Theatre productions, this is his first lead role. Most recently, he played Odysseus in “Hecuba,” Uncle Henry and the Emerald City guard in the “The Wizard of Oz,” Mr. Laurence in “Little Women” and Ryder in “The Luck of Roaring Camp.”

Junior Facia Lee rehearses for her role as Sandra Bloom in “Big Fish.” The cast and crew have transitioned to Zoom rehearsals for the fall production.The responsibility of playing the lead for the first time is “a little daunting,” Carleton said. When he first read the script, he highlighted his lines – all 235 of them – to start memorizing them. The script is 105 pages, and Carleton is off-stage for only 18 of them.

Rehearsals are anywhere from two to four hours long, four times a week. Carleton cherishes the opportunity to make something beautiful with his friends and fellow artists, especially as “the music of the world is grinding to a halt.”

“You can decide, especially as a Christian, how you’re going to approach the situation when something goes wrong,” Carleton said. “If you make your happiness depend on your circumstances, you’re rarely going to be happy. If you focus on bringing beauty and kindness to others, then you’ll never lose your joy.”

After the April show was postponed, Carleton shared a similar message with his classmates based on a line from one of the first songs in the show: “If the music stops, continue with the dance.”

Freshman Tristen Hooks rehearses a scene in “Big Fish.” He plays Sandra and Edward Bloom’s son.The rehearsals have provided a much-needed social outlet for the theatre students, many of whom are extroverts, Schnack said.

“It’s an anchor for them,” Schnack said. “They get to come and put all of their energy into this virtual playground.”

Facia Lee, a junior, will play in her first PBA Theatre role as Sandra Bloom, opposite Carleton. She said she’s grateful to be among people who are so adaptable and have such a positive attitude. That includes their director.

“Professor Schnack, he’s such a visionary, so artistic,” Lee said. “The energy that we’re all giving is from his energy and how much he’s putting in. We want to get his vision up on stage for other people to see.”

Stage manager Elena Bockman-Pedersen has been working hard behind the scenes to bring his vision to life. The cast experienced some feedback and delays rehearsing the music live in Zoom, so Bockman-Pedersen worked with musical director and staff accompanist Janda Taylor to upload a recording of each student’s part to a shared drive online. The students can rehearse on their own or in breakout rooms in Zoom.

On stage, Bockman-Pedersen has played Henrietta Leavitt in “Silent Sky,” Toto in “The Wizard of Oz” and Beth in “Little Women.” Given the unusual rehearsal format for this production, Bockman-Pedersen coaches students one-on-one over FaceTime and Skype to help them learn their parts, she said.

“As a stage manager, you don’t really get to interact with the actors as much individually as you do as a whole,” Bockman-Pedersen said. “It’s helped to build a bond.”

The rehearsals even transcend international borders, Bockman-Pedersen said. Justus Elliott, who plays Amos Calloway, is Canadian and needed to return home before the borders closed.

“We’re so blessed that we have the technology that we do so that we can continue to rehearse,” Bockman-Pedersen said. “Ten years ago, this may not have been possible. Even though it’s not what we expected or what we wanted, this is something we’ll look back on as a group and say this is what kept us sane in this time, to be able to come together and do this.”

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