Virtual STC: Getting the Beat Just Right

A behind-the-scenes look at the Stuyvesant Theater Community’s first virtual show.

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Taking place in the mystical land of Arcadia, the Stuyvesant Theater Community’s (STC) upcoming virtual production of “Head Over Heels'' follows the dramatic full-circle journey of a royal family struggling to keep the fictional “Beat” that governs their land. Shadowed by the threat of four prophecies, their journey is riddled with trials of love, self-acceptance, and mistaken identities.

Likewise, the virtual nature of the production presents a new set of difficulties to STC. Amidst the pandemic, in-person rehearsals have been replaced with Zoom meetings fraught with spotty Internet connections and glitchy computers. What used to be a stage with dazzling lights and a live band is now replaced by tiny greenscreens, audio recordings, and editing software.

That’s not the only difference in this year’s production. Unlike previous years when the production was live, this year’s production will be streamed as a single video. The editing department is taking on the task of splicing together all the individual shots to make one cohesive production.

Sophomore Oliver Hollman, a member of both the cast and newly-formed editing department, described the logistical struggles of creating a virtual pre-recorded performance as a cast member: “There’s kind of a lag. We’re practicing [songs and dances] on Zoom, but we’re not doing them synchronously,” he said. “It’s kind of hard to get the specific timing down and real connections between actors when you’re doing a scene.”

The limitations that come with utilizing green screens affect how dance crews design choreography as well. “It’s much more restricting regarding how much you can move around and what formations you can do,” sophomore and dance director Christina Shen said. Dance crews also have a difficult time visualizing how their individual choreographies would be pieced together to represent the entire group. “You can […] visualize things better [in person],” she said. “[T]hough we kind of have a sense of how things will look like, there’s always a possibility of things not turning out the way you want them to.”

Because cast members require time to prepare choreography and practice blocking, the filming process will start later in the production. Sophomore and assistant editing director Cassie Fenwick recounts the editing department's preparation while waiting for filming to occur. “We’ve had some issues getting software, but we did a few video lessons about the software and how to use it for the crewmembers,” she said. The software she plans to use are Adobe Premiere Pro and Final Cut Pro.

The most difficult parts in this process are filming and stitching the videos together. “[We have to] make it look […] as if they’re on stage and having an in-person interaction, even though we can’t actually have that anymore,” sophomore and producer Lianne Ohayon said. Fenwick expressed a similar sentiment about the challenges of virtual production. “I think [the biggest challenges are] making it seem like a theater production [in which] everyone’s together and the budget because we’re having some problems, but it’ll probably work out in the end,” she said.

For some, the biggest difference between virtual and live STC lies in the bonding experience (or lack thereof) and less frequent interactions with friends. Last year, Ohayon enjoyed fostering new relationships and rehearsing face-to-face with cast members. “One of the things that I enjoyed about SING! and STC was that there was such a big community, and there were so many relationships formed that aren’t formed to the extent that they were, now that everything is virtual,” she said.

For crews such as the band, despite the virtual rehearsals, crew-bonding is still very important. “[Our meetings occur] usually about once a week. The music parts don’t take too long to go over, so we usually spend an hour or two playing games such as Among Us or skribbl.io in order to have some band bonding,” STC band director and junior Ava Yap said.

Producers also strive to incorporate elements of teamwork during Zoom meetings, which has been essential for communication among the cast members, production crew, and coordinates. Though each crew has individual meetings, producers occasionally pair crews with other crews to work together. “Sometimes the producers hop in and out of those meetings,” Ohayon described. In addition, larger meetings with all the departments and producers are often conducted to ensure every member of Head Over Heels is on the same page. “We’re just trying to make sure that people are doing well and understand what’s going on and see if we can help them in any way to accomplish what they need to accomplish,” she added.

Other messaging platforms used by STC include Facebook Messenger, where each crew has their own group chat, though there sometimes are merger group chats with multiple crews. “We’ll have certain Messenger group chats with more than one crew so they can talk between each other about scheduling times and meetings,” Ohayon said.

Though communicating entirely virtually can become tiresome, virtual STC has its merits. For one thing, there is clearer organization. “I think it’s a lot easier to actually know what’s going on in joining meetings. There’s an actual schedule that’s very accessible,” Hollman said.

The virtual platform also allows for new and interesting digital effects. “Everyone’s going to have a green screen with a background that’s going to be drawn by the art crew, so that will be pretty cool,” Fenwick said.

Virtual STC has also allowed recent Stuyvesant graduates the unique opportunity to continue participating in the production. Wesley Wong (’20), Jessica Kim (’20), and Ivan Galakhov (’20) have all decided to come back to STC band this semester. “If [the production] wasn't virtual, I probably wouldn't [join] because I don't really have [the] time to attend rehearsals,” Wong said.

Just as the characters in the musical manage to overcome their hurdles, so will STC. The performance will be live-streamed on ShowShare on January 15 and 16. Tickets cost $10 for families and $7 for individuals and will be sold on the same platform. Though a virtual production won’t feel the same, Ohayon maintains that the result will be just as satisfying and rewarding as a live performance. “Everyone should watch the show,” she said. “It’s [going to] be good. I have faith.”