The show must go on: Potomac’s winter musical production will take a virtual format

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Isabel Engel

Members of this year’s cast of the spring musical on Zoom, mid-rehearsal of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Katie Rebhan, Culture Editor

Most years, on premiere night of the winter musical, the EPAC is filled with students, teachers, and parents, eager to watch the work of Upper School theater students come to life onstage. This year, however, the auditorium will be empty. Instead, Potomac’s theater-goers will log onto an all-virtual performance of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” 

Michael Bergman, US theater teacher, Jerry Rich, US and IS chorus teacher, and outside-of-school choreographer Emily Crews, who has worked on the musical in the past, decided to revive the unique, musicalized version of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”—a show the team created 13 years ago for a summer program. The show last appeared on Potomac’s EPAC stage in 2017. 

According to Mr. Bergman, the musical is about “four lovers and six amateur actors who fall under the spell of mischievous fairies in an enchanted forest one night. This is Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream with music and lyrics by John, Paul, George, and Ringo!”

Musical auditions, which took place at the end of November, were completely virtual. “The audition process consisted of three parts: students interested in the musical submitted two monologues to me via email,” said Mr. Bergman. “Mr. Rich also selected two pieces of music, an up-tempo song and a ballad. Finally, our choreographer sent out a piece of choreography and asked the students to submit their own versions.”

Rehearsals have also been conducted remotely this winter, which has been a challenge for actors who are accustomed to taking cues from scene-partners and working collaboratively to craft performances.

“The value of a rehearsal has a lot to do with being able to read body language and see facial expressions, which is one of the many reasons we’re doing everything virtually,” said Mr. Bergman. “However, not being able to have everyone in the same room certainly changes the atmosphere and can make things challenging.”

For a final performance, Mr. Bergman is using the fall play as a model, as it was recorded over Zoom and was compiled into one cohesive recording. The musical poses more audio-specific challenges, though, because many of the songs require a chorus or choral backing. Since the entire cast will never be in the same room at the same time, audio conflicts, such as feedback, lag, and a disparity of sound, are likely to arise over Zoom or other similar platforms.

To learn about optimizing students’ theatrical experience in a Zoom environment, in January, Mr. Bergman took a masterclass on assembling musicals. By the end of the musical season, his hope is to have each scene of the musical filmed and later stitched together to create a seamless and engaging virtual production. 

Freshman Elisa Germanis, who will be playing Puck, hopes she can capture her character’s mischievous energy even through an online production. “The show might be a little challenging being online, but I think that we can use it to our advantage by putting it together in more of a movie style. As a freshman new to the Potomac theater program, I’m really excited to work with all the very talented people in this cast,” Elisa said.

Senior Shelby Thompson has been a part of the musical since her freshman year, and she’s looking forward to her last performance, even if it cannot be in-person. “Although we aren’t really able to be together in-person for this show, I still feel like the format we are doing it in will be equally fun. This year will be very interesting because we’ll be recording our show, which means we can do more interesting stuff visually and test different editing things,” Shelby said.

“I will miss being able to have that person-to-person connection with others, especially now that I am a senior. I always looked up to the seniors when I was a freshman, and I think that forming connections and making them feel welcome through Zoom is more challenging, but the other seniors and I will try our best to make it work,” she continued.

Despite the challenges, Mr. Bergman is very excited for the coming months. “This is just a really great cast; our seniors have reached out to other students to give them a feel of what the musical would be like if we were not in these circumstances because a big part of the musical has always been creating that community. Also, because we are in this weird format, anything goes, so I’m looking forward to the creative input of characters and the chorus,” Mr. Bergman said.