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Virtual Musicals: Hear from the Artists!

Virtual theatre has become a valuable tool the past two years, and many artists and companies have taken advantage of it to bring musicals to the digital world! We asked some of the folks presenting virtual musicals during Philly Theatre Week about their process, and here’s what they had to say:

What excites you about virtual theatre?

Ryk Lewis (The Ongoing Plight of the Ferryman from Brainchild Stageworkx):
“I’m very excited about the possibility of reaching a wider audience with whom we can share our art. Between Covid and distance and scheduling, not everyone can get everywhere to view things and lots of art gets missed simply because of logistics. Virtual theater, I think, helps to open some of those doors.”
Dani B (Brilliant the Musical from Dani B): 
“Of course nothing can replace live theatre; but I cannot describe how many more opportunities I have now to share my story with the world now that the show can be watched virtually. When my show was in the festival, a few groups of women flew in from California and Utah - which blew my mind.  They told me there were so many more moms who couldn’t make the journey but wished they could see the show. Because I have this video, I am now able to offer that to them.”
Amanda Jill Robinson and Jenna Pinchbeck (Come Sail Away with Ruth and Estelle from Ruth and Estelle): 
“Aside from the joy of being able to watch a show in the comforts of home (hello muumuus), we were so excited by the opportunities virtual theatre gave us to play with the format of our piece, particularly with creating the music videos. We spent a day filming all over Philadelphia, and even on a real sailboat! Going digital and using a green screen allowed us to place our characters directly on the cruise ship for the many other locations and time frames of the story in a super fun and cost effective way. We had too much fun with photoshop.”
Ardencie Hall-Karambe (Still Here! from Eastern State University): 
“Virtual theater excites me because it allows for bigger audiences; more opportunities for people to see the work of artists Who might not get that type of exposure otherwise. I think virtual theater offers a lot of opportunity for smaller companies and universities to be able to offer theater in ways that they can’t do because they don’t have departmental dollars, touring dollars, or grant money etc. I think virtual theater is exciting because it promises certain longevity to pieces that wouldn’t normally get it in a regular theatrical setting. Theater is usually ephemeral, fleeting, And virtual theater offers us a way to preserve theater— live theater that is different than film.”

How are you bringing your musical to the digital screen?

Ryk Lewis: “Back when we did the show in October we recorded one of our rehearsals as an archive. We are excited to share that recording with the Philly theater community.”
Dani B: “My musical, Brilliant, was performed at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival this past Fall.  I was very fortunate to have been allowed to videotape one of those performances.  The quality of the video turned out great.   I honestly thought I would only be using the video for my own enjoyment and perhaps to create a promo video for publicity.  It did not immediately occur to me the potential I would have to now reach larger audiences.”
Ruth and Estelle: “From the beginning, Jenna and I wanted Come Sail Away to be full of music, which posed an exciting challenge for us as creators since Ruth and Estelle are decidedly not singers. (Though they have worked with some of the industry's best singers and are highly acclaimed theatrical coaches!)  Enter Otis Redfin and Rex Bluegill, the personification of our rock n’ roll souls. Being avid classic rock fans and having built that love into R&E’s foundation, we realized, who better to bring the musical element of this story to life than a pair of rock stars? Together with an incredibly talented band, we created OTIS REX and The Sugars and recorded two live songs. The rest of the show features music videos that offer a hilarious look at Ruth and Estelle’s life in quarantine on a senior cruise ship, forming a delicious 45 minute seafood buffet of storytelling that’s streaming throughout the festival.”
Ardencie Hall-Karambe: “We started off working in zoom and from there went into rehearsals for about three weeks. Considering Covid restrictions at the time, we tried to mitigate the problem by bringing them in in small numbers. We blocked the show as we would any other theater production taking into account we knew that we would be filming the show at a later date. Because I was writing the book, I could control the number of actors in each scene. I wanted to keep the scenes small enough to where it would be easy to get close-ups and get a sense of personal relationships.”


What can audiences look forward to when they watch your show?

Ryk Lewis: “Lots of laughter. Characters who are unashamedly authentic. Everyone dies. Did I mention laughter?”
Dani B: “What you will get is honesty.  Brilliant is not a "Big" musical with fancy costumes and big song and dance numbers.   It is an intimate,  real story; and I hope that when people watch it they are able to connect to the story in some way.”
Ruth and Estelle: “We hope audiences enjoy the relatable relationship between these two very old friends, the hilarity of perhaps one of the wildest quarantine stories they may ever hear or ‘sea’, and the amazing talents of the musicians that open and close the show with us. And be sure to watch after the credits for an extra treat!”
Ardencie Hall-Karambe: “I hope the audience would look forward to the future of theater being live and virtual. I want the audience to see the future through the performances of these young people—the students of the arts who are still training. I want the audience to see the relationships of the characters and to get caught up in their stories because they are stories that we recognize.”
For a full list of events, check out phillytheatreweek.com!
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