“Theory of Relativity,” a song cycle made up of disconnected songs joined by a through line, was particularly fitting during a time when the students of West Texas A&M University were feeling quite a bit of disconnection. This musical production was not WTAMU Theatre’s original plan for the fall 2020 semester, but neither were the continuing challenges of a global pandemic.
“Kiss Me, Kate,” an enormous musical that requires a large cast and orchestra, was the planned show for the fall 2020 semester and had already been postponed from the spring 2020 semester. However, by the middle of the summer of 2020, it was apparent that the show would still not be safe to produce.
Since a live production was not an option, the production had to be in the form of a video. There were not many productions that were allowed by licensing companies to stream, so the choices were somewhat limited in terms of what shows could be produced in video form.
“Theory of Relativity” was appealing at the time because it is about how college students develop community from shared experience. The through line’s theme of forming connections with other people was especially fitting during a time when making such connections became more challenging.
Theatre productions at WTAMU have always been in-person, so having to switch to a video format was very different for students and professors alike.
“We’re not a film school, but we did find ourselves in a ‘we’re making a movie mode,’” said Bradley Behrmann, assistant professor of music theatre and director of the “Theory of Relativity” production. “And ‘the show must go on’ kind of mentality transferred to, ‘well we just need to figure it out.’”
Collaboration with the School of Music and the Department of Communication at WTAMU was key to making everything come together for this production. Steven Dolezal’s recording class helped record the production and the Department of Communication assisted with some of the location shoots.
All of this hard work paid off, as the production garnered eight awards from the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival (KCACTF). The awards were chosen by a committee from about 40 productions in eight regions around the country.
Since the production was a video rather than live performance, the process of competing regionally was easier than ever before. Instead of respondents having to travel to WTAMU to see the production, everyone stayed where they were and simply sent a link of their production. This was the fifth consecutive time in a row that WTAMU was invited to the KCACTF.
“It was neat to be recognized in terms of the collaborative process and in terms of innovative use of technology,” Behrmann said. “Those are things that we’ve not really gotten before.”
Behrmann has been recognized for his music direction before, but this production marked his first honor for directing.
Several WTAMU students received individual awards, including Abbi Roe, a spring 2021 musical theatre graduate pursuing a second degree in dance and Caitlynn Sandoval, a senior majoring in technology design in theatre. Roe was recognized for performance and Sandoval for stage management.
Roe said it made sense for Sandoval to get special recognition because of, “…how much dedication and hard work she put into it, exceeding the lines of what a stage manager is supposed to do.”
Sandoval, in describing Roe, said, “…she was a leader of positivity.”
Both hard work and positivity were key during the challenges that came with the production process.
“Something changed every single day,” said Behrmann. “Someone was not there, someone was sick, someone was in quarantine.”
All participants in the production were expected to get weekly COVID-19 testing and, if they did not get their testing done, they could not be on site or attend on filming days.
“It was hard because we had a couple people test positive during this process that ended up having to record their own songs in their own homes by themselves,” Sandoval said. “And it was just really hard to make sure that all of them were still within the process. Keeping up with everyone’s safety was exhausting.”
One big challenge for producing a music theatre show without a live audience was that there were moments when an audience reaction was needed, especially for the comedic songs.
“We had one rehearsal where we had the crew members come in and watch if they wanted to and then the department head came,” Roe said. “And that was the best performance we ever did because we had the audience’s reaction to feed off of.”
Although the process of distance production was challenging, WTAMU Theatre rose above and beyond these challenges. The individuals involved were able to connect through the disconnect and create something truly phenomenal.
WTAMU Theatre has decided to do another video production this fall, “Monstersongs.” The production is a spooky, fun song cycle that will be streamed over Halloween. There will be a live streaming on Oct. 30 at 11 p.m., costumes encouraged.
Show and ticket information are available here or by calling 806-651-2810.