KEARNEY — Art often imitates life for a reason.
The Academy of Children’s Theatre will present a show steeped in the realities of the day — proving that life can imitate art just as easily.
“The premise of the show is exactly what happened to us,” said Judy Rozema, executive director of Kearney Community Theatre, which includes the Academy of Children’s Theatre. “On the opening night of ‘Law and Order,’ the kids in the cast found out that their show was canceled. That’s when the COVID virus was blowing up. They weren’t able to perform that show.”
After weeks of rehearsing, the cast of young performers learned on March 13 that “Law & Order: Nursery Rhyme Unit” would not “go on.” That same weekend, authorities shut down schools, businesses and all live performances due to the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Fast forward 10 weeks and Rozema, along with a different cast, will present a new show, “The Show Must Go Online,” as a YouTube presentation starting June 1.
“These are all kids I have worked with before in a musical setting,” she said. “In the opening scene, their drama teacher tells them that their show has been canceled. The teacher gets a call from her principal telling her that if she doesn’t do the show, the entire drama program will be shut down. It’s a super funny show.”
The cast members begin sending videos to each other, trying to save the program.
“They decide to do this online show called ‘Brushes with Greatness,’” Rozema said. “One of the main songs is ‘Defying Cavities,’ a takeoff of the song, ‘Defying Gravity,’ from ‘Wicked.’ The characters are Tommy Tooth and Bob Flossy. They fight plaque and gingivitis. The kids have been really creative in what they have done with their parts.”
Written by Jessica Penzias and David Hudson, with music by Denver Casado, “The Show Must Go Online” creates a musical from a series of short video vignettes. The writers posted on their website, bbbpress.com: “It breaks our heart to hear that so many theater performances have been postponed or canceled. This means thousands of young actors out there won’t get a chance to take the stage for their final performance. We wrote this musical in response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, as a way for actors to work together as an ensemble to put on a show — while staying safe in their own homes.”
The writing team rejected the format of a traditional musical stating, “group singing on Zoom is a disaster.”
“So we built the show from the ground up,” the team wrote. “We considered what kids and drama teachers are going through at this time and worked those themes into each scene — including the antics and technical mayhem that comes with performing a musical online. The result is a comedic and fun storyline designed to lift spirits when we all need it the most.”
Each performer recorded lines and music without knowing the continuity of the show.
Rozema will edit the videos together into a cohesive production.
“There will be a link that audience members can go to to watch the entire show,” she noted. “There are 22 cast members. They have sent me individual videos. It’s a surprise for the cast, too, since they don’t who is playing what other parts. They won’t know how that fits in with the rest of the story. They sent me their videos, I gave them a few notes and then they resubmitted their videos.”
The performers spent less than a week rehearsing.
“They are so talented and super creative,” Rozema said of the cast. “I’m really excited to have something that kids can create, something that still shows off their acting and singing chops. It shows that these talents are still alive, even if they are online.”
As a director of children’s theater, Rozema understands that the urge to create lives on, even in challenging times.
“The kids that are doing this show love theater so much, and love the idea of acting, that they are willing to be the single one singing or reciting lines on camera for everybody to see,” she said.
While “The Show Must Go Online” tells a story like a filmed movie, the production has more in common with a staged musical.
“It’s as if you were watching an individual performer speaking on stage, focusing on that one actor,” she said. “And then it will go to the next scene with a different actor. At they end, they will all sing together, which will be quite the technological experiment for me, to get that all together.”
The Academy of Children’s Theatre has produced other shows by this production company, Beat By Beat Press, including “Giants in the Sky” and “Tut, Tut.”
“It usually takes them a year to write a musical,” Rozema said. “They pulled this together in two weeks because they saw the need and came up with this great idea. There are more than 460 productions of the virtual musical happening around the country. You can see that the want, the need and the desire to perform is there, all over the country.”