Working on a Zoom musical during a global pandemic is not easy. However, the cast and crew of Tone Deaf Theatre Company’s production of ‘John and Jen’ hasn’t let the pandemic impact upon their love for all things musical theatre. Rather, they have shown a love and respect for the new format, a real part of the post-Covid theatre world. Keep reading for an insight into their newest project!
Working on this show has been such a pleasure. Whilst we haven’t been able to make the most of social aspects of the show, like socials, publicity bar crawls, and meetings held over the best coffee Durham has to offer, the team really has been amazing. Rather than just trying to mimic what working on a ‘normal’ show would be like, we’ve tried to adapt to an online format. Publicity, for instance, has taken the form of social media advertising. We’ve really capitalised upon the online format, reaching out to audiences and schools who may not otherwise have been able to watch the show. It has been so inspiring to see a group of people who all feel so passionately about theatre and watching them bring musical theatre to life after what has not been an easy year. This show may look different, but no doubt the quality will be just as high.
Lippa and Greenwald’s ‘John & Jen’ was always going to be a complex show to direct. This was rather obvious given the fact that the two-person cast play dozens of characters, some even in the space of four lines of music. However, directing this production completely virtually brings a whole new set of challenges into the mix. The beginning of the rehearsal process was in fact trial and error, figuring out how to rehearse a duet over Zoom, taking time lags into consideration. However, there are also creative considerations. What is online theatre? Onstage you can create visually complex physical sequences, in cinema you have the camera at your disposal, and you can use the perspective of different characters. With self-taped theatre, we have tried to strike a balance between the two; in places I have gone back to my roots as a dancer and semi-choreographed it, in others, we have tapped into the fact that there is a camera there. I don’t think I could specialise in this sort of production, I do miss creating shows for the stage, but I’ve had a lot of fun trying to figure it all out. I am eternally grateful to the cast for trying and retrying with me, and for listening to me tell them all of the weirdest little things about America (did you know it is illegal to desecrate the American flag), and I hope you decide to buy tickets and enjoy our magic little show!
Musical Director –
Musically directing over Zoom has been a rewarding experience despite its clear limitations. Going into this production, we knew it was going to be a challenge. A big one was giving notes and direction after listening to Anna and Archie sing under Zoom audio conditions. You would be able to tell that they were giving it their all, and so not being able to hear their belts due to poor audio quality and time tags felt like such a shame. However, that never stopped the cast from going full out. We worked through our difficulties by having the cast send videos of them singing each song, and we would use those to write notes. We feel so fortunate to have been able to work with such a talented cast and crew, as well as our amazing musicians, Josh and Emma, who agreed to take on such a demanding project!
The prospect of performing a virtual, one-and-a-half-hour production with dialogue, singing, and a fully-fledged band would have sounded crazy a couple of years ago. But with the perseverance and skill of the whole cast and crew, we’ve been able to achieve it. As actors, the most tricky tech aspect has been recording dialogue. Musical sections are easy to correctly time with a backing track, whereas a completely free-flowing dialogue between two actors on opposite sides of the country both filming alone in their bedrooms sounds completely berserk! It’s resulted in a lot of learning on the job and constantly adapting our recording techniques, but we are undoubtedly coming out of it with a better understanding of the tools we can use to make a show like this accomplishable in the future. Another challenge from the acting perspective is managing to create authentic reactions and emotions when you are literally just speaking/ singing alone to a camera. We’ve never even met each other in real life! But there are a couple of unexpected benefits for us performers – namely being able to go and have a cup of tea after a big number and film the next song 2 days later! Another really rewarding part of this show format is that our family and friends from all over the country can watch us perform, it’s been especially exciting to be able to invite grandparents, friends at other unis and even our old schools to watch. Overall, whilst there’s lots you could potentially moan about, we both just feel incredibly grateful to be able to really throw ourselves into something right now, and we’ve genuinely had loads of fun!
Anna Pycock and Archie Collins
Working on a virtual show is definitely tricky – we can’t meet in person and rehearsing over Zoom is unfeasible, so a lot of the time you have to be proactive and make decisions about the music yourself (that you might not ordinarily have to). Having said that, it’s a great experience and it’s especially helpful to have the opportunity to truly think more about the quality individual sound that you’re creating. It’s really exciting to be a part of something so unusual – or rather, to be working on something creative, after a year-long hiatus! I can’t wait to finally see how all of our parts interlock, and how the show comes together!
Image: Erin Waks