At the beginning of the Spring 2020 semester, Musical Theatre students in MSU’s Department of Theatre expected to finish the academic year with some intense scene work that would bring together every element of what they had learned. When the university switched to remote learning for the remainder of the semester, the direction of the course began an organic shift, born out of creativity, student advocacy, and a deep dedication from faculty members Dave Wendelberger and Brad Willcuts.
For the first few weeks, the class shifted to doing remote singing projects. Not only were students plying their craft with projects focused on auditioning and new works, they also were learning how to self-tape, sing to a track, and perform from home.
“Brad and I decided we wanted them to have fun and find the joy in this unexpected new setting,” Wendelberger said. “Then one day, Brad sent me a link to a Broadway cast that had recorded a performance from their homes and asked if we could accomplish it. We decided we could.”
They decided on the song “It’s Time to Dance” from the Broadway musical “The Prom.” The project was a heavy lift for faculty as they set out to musically arrange the song, find backing tracks, and assign solos and harmonies. They created and distributed instructions for the students on how to film their part at home. The students submitted their final videos before the end of the semester.
When classes moved to remote learning, Business Marketing Major and Musical Theatre Minor Bryce Stevens says his expectations for the course changed.
“Since this is a musical theatre class, we learn a lot from our peers and doing projects together. I expected it to be hard to accomplish this online, but Brad and Dave did a great job of creating projects that taught us musical theatre essentials,” Stevens said. “I really enjoyed being able to just let loose and sing a fun song. I learned how to effectively record videos from home, which will be a great help when auditioning remotely for productions in other cities.”
The video project also offered students an opportunity to reconnect with their passion for the art form.
“The move to online classes gave me the chance to set my own standard for my work,” said Sydney Jo Schneider, BFA in Acting with a minor in Musical Theatre. “In class, I relied heavily on my teachers to set a standard for me. The one thing Dave and Brad emphasized in the process was to have fun making our videos. Sometimes the fun of musical theatre can be overshadowed by the pressure of proving yourself or being the best singer, dancer, or actor in the room. The project gave me the chance to rediscover why I love musical theatre.”
After the final videos were submitted, Wendelberger set out to teach himself Adobe Premiere Pro, a video editing software, to put it all together into a 5 minute and 30 second video with voice syncing, grid-style formats, and audio mixing.
“My hope is that after being ‘forced’ to collaborate like this from afar, we may be able to use what we learned and incorporate projects like this in the classroom on a more regular basis,” Wendelberger said. “Who knows, this performance art platform may stick around even after it is safe for people to come together.”