Grayslake North’s Green Room perform the musical virtually

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Photo courtesy of Cheryl_Schwartz

This is a screen shot from the opening scene in the musical “All the Live Long Day.”

Grayslake North’s Green Room Theatre Company found a way to perform their spring musical, “Working,” virtually during the pandemic. 

Working is a show that features a variety of middle-class people as they tell the stories of their life in the working class. The musical does not follow a certain plot but jumps from song to song as each character tells their story. The show is also very relevant to times now as it somewhat relates to the job market. 

“It’s especially poignant as our job market took such a hit due to the pandemic,” said director Cher Schwartz. 

Auditions for the musical took place around November. Information was sent out to the school and a flip grid was made for students to send in their auditions. Students had to film around a minute of them singing a song and then perform a short monologue. After all the auditions were in, Paul Nielsen, the music director, and Schwartz put together who would play who and decided on different soloists. Once cast lists were posted, the musical was off to start rehearsals.

“We had a flip grid set up where students auditioned their acting and singing. Mr. Nielsen and I then figured out which songs to give to specific soloists and who would take the heavier parts in group numbers and cast the show from there,” Schwartz said. 

Rehearsals definitely looked different this year than in the past. Students would log on and work on figuring out who their characters were and how to portray their lives. For the students, this was a challenge as in each song or scene they are playing a different person, so they had many different people to portray and learn about. Although this way of rehearsing was not ideal, they made it work really well.  

“Rehearsing on Zoom was weird. We would all just gather in our little grid boxes, and if it was dialogue work, we would go through and discuss the character’s personality and motivation, ideas of how to convey that person’s story. The difficulty for the kids is that there are no traditional character roles. In each scene and song, they are playing someone new, so there is a lot of thought going into how do I play this person differently,” Schwartz said.

Putting on a show virtually had its struggles. After always putting shows on live and in person, it was a dramatic switch to now have all the responsibility of making sure you practice and get your recordings in on time. This show was very different and more stressful than those in the past, as students didn’t have rehearsals with the whole cast to rely upon for things like memorizing and learning music. 

“I think the hardest part was accountability and being responsible, making sure you actually practiced your material outside of the zoom rehearsal or reviews. Also making sure you finished your video and audio recordings ahead of the deadlines given as well. It was very far from a traditional rehearsal process,” said senior Hillary Collins. 

Not only was putting on a virtual musical difficult, the amount of students participating was drastically lower than previous years. Working the musical is normally put on with only four actors, so the director was planning for anything. Whether they had a big cast or a small one, they were prepared. The director also realized that through the pandemic, students have suffered even more than normal with their mental health and was very understanding about the fact that many students had to prioritize their self-care over school activities.

“It was certainly smaller than in previous years. I think that this year was hard for a lot of students to figure out what is a remote musical. There were a lot of mental health issues this past winter that people needed to address their own self-care. Suddenly balancing school online and self-care, extra-curricular was harder than ever. So I totally understand why our cast was smaller. We usually have 20 to 25 cast, and we ended with 13 and really didn’t have any crew because we weren’t in person,” Schwartz said.

Normally shows have a crew and tech part to them. There are a variety of different crews such as lighting, costumes, props, set, etc. Tech is normally a big role that students involved in the production help with. With everything being virtual, there was no need for many of those crews, which was a very drastic change from all other shows. This made it so the majority of the work fell just on the tech director. 

“In past productions, I’ve been on the costumes crew, where it becomes a bit hectic when we start to order costumes or put together costumes. But this year all our costumes came from our closets, with a few exceptions. It was just our tech director practically putting together and editing our whole show,” Collins said. 

In order to make this show happen, students had to record their sections of the show at home. In order to do this, they were provided with a backdrop and a ring light. Recording scenes that were interacting with others’ characters was a bit strange and was definitely a challenge, as students are used to having props and having other people right there to act with. 

“I recorded all of it in my basement,” Collins said. “It was weird to film all alone. I had a few scenes where I had to ‘interact’ with another character, which was also difficult to film. Reacting and acting through film is much different than on stage, where I can have more props and space to move around.”

Tech director Ron Bowden then worked vigorously to edit the show after all the students shared their recordings. He had to make sure that everything lined up and would smoothly run when the show was live-streamed. 

“I would say the hardest part was syncing all the videos together. Once each actor recorded their individual parts, we had to make sure all the timing on all the videos were the same. That took a lot of hours to get right,” Bowden said. 

Although the musical was a long and hard process, it eventually came together, and the students and staff were able to see all their hard work come together. The students put in so much work from December through April and were excited to be able to see the show themselves and allow friends and family to see their work too.

“My favorite part about the show was when the show was finally finished being edited, and I got to do a screening for all the students and staff. Getting to see them react to our hard work and seeing them be so proud of each other was so heartwarming,” Bowden said.