The Freshman Musical 2020 will take place over Zoom instead of on stage. The virtual reading scheduled for May 16 is an abbreviated version of the original show.

For the first time, the Freshman Musical is going virtual. This is an annual performance produced entirely by the freshman year.

Illustration by Joshua Hoffman and Lauren Kelly

“The reason that we're doing this performance right now is to keep up this community and keep up the tradition of the Freshman Musical even if it can't be the full extent of what we could do in live,” director Sydney Tennill said.

The performance is adapted from “Catch Me If You Can,” which follows Frank Abagnale, a con artist. As the musical progresses, he pretends to be an airline pilot, a doctor and a lawyer and steals millions of dollars.

“As he moves from one glamours life to another, he realizes that the one thing he is searching for is something he can not con: a home,” Tennill said.

Tennill also said the team is focusing more on music and character analysis rather than blocking and choreography, because the latter would be difficult to do over Zoom.

In addition to the challenge of lack of physical space presented by Zoom, the team is also dealing with time restraint. This year, the performance will only be one hour long.

“One of the first things we decided was that we weren't going to do the full performance,” Tennill said. “Because as much as we would love to do the full musical, we also understand that it's maybe not that interesting to watch people sit and sing for two and a half hours.”

Zoom does not support multiple people singing at the same time because there might be a slight difference in transmission time. Thus, parts of the performance need to be pre-recorded.

“Anything with more than one person (is pre-recorded),” music director Kevin Park said. “If there's two people, then it becomes pre-recorded.”

Park has spent the past few days playing instruments on his keyboard to create the tracks for the musical. He then sends the tracks to the actors, who listen to them and record themselves singing. After that, Park combines the background track with the actor’s recordings.

During the virtual reading, the majority of the company will lip sync for the pre-corded parts, while the solo actors will perform live.
“They'll just have a speaker (in their background) and then they'll sing with the speaker at the same time,” Park said. “So there's no delay with the music and their mouth.”

Park said he found a silver lining in this Zoom production — playing with the music and having more control over the sound.

“In terms of a live production, we have all these restraints, like the amount of instruments, we have tech issues,” Park said. “But because it's in an online environment, I can fine-tune exactly what I want in terms of the sound.”

Since the costume designers do not have the resources necessary to get costumes, the actors need to put together their own costumes with materials they already have at home.

“There's a scene with a lot of doctors in it,” Tennill said. “Almost everyone has masks, so people might be wearing masks for that.”

Instead of rehearsing four hours a night and five nights a week, the team has a much more flexible rehearsal schedule.

Tennill said the availability of actors varies, so the production team offers individual meetings to cast members.

“We know that this is a stressful time and everyone's in different situations, so we don't want to make it a huge commitment,” said co-producer Arella Flur. “At the end of the day, we're just trying to have fun and put up a fun reading.”

Flur said actors do not need to have their lines memorized during the virtual reading, but it will be a performance rather than a monotone reading. She is impressed by how well the performance works in a virtual environment and she said it was great to see everyone in a Zoom meeting.

“Even though we're all hundreds and thousands of miles apart, we can still all be working on this process together,” Flur said.

This event is a closed performance for friends and family only. Flur said the team looks forward to presenting the production to the public in the fall should conditions allow.