This pandemic has brought so much disruption, disappointment and challenges to education, so much seems to have been lost. With schools closed one of the biggest events of the year for many of us, the school production, will be cancelled for a second year in a row. But have you thought about putting on a virtual showcase production instead? Virtual productions are a great way of keeping that theatrical fire burning whilst you are all away from school. Here are a few tips to help your virtual showcase production a flying start.
Choose your content.
There are many different options available to you with regard to what you want to perform. Since lockdowns started, writers have been producing and publishing scripts for virtual performances. These can be a great option if you are short of time. But remember that if you are producing a published script, you still need to buy the rights to the show!
Another option is to produce a showcase of student material. Work that they have written and produced themselves. It could all be centred around a theme for the whole evening. This would allow students to branch out into other areas of interest to them and combine a mix of performance styles.
You could choose to adapt an existing play for a virtual world or selecting extracts from a number of sources and presenting them as a showcase. Or perhaps you could combine a mixture of prewritten script work with student devised material.
Casting is essential.
In a normal show run with rehearsals taking place in a fixed location, casting is not always such a problem. It normally does not matter who you cast, as long as they are right for the role. But in a virtual production you might have to think again. Working in a virtual environment can be challenging for everyone. Like it or not, they have a presence in the home which can disrupt the atmosphere of the house. You are quite literally inviting people into their homes, so they need to be able to get on with them. They need to potentially have a pre-existing relationship with them. They do not need to be best friends, but friendly enough to break through the barrier of awkwardness of talking over an internet connection.
Rehearsing a virtual production is not easy, but far from impossible. Some of the challenging are down to the type of show you are putting on. A series of monologues or solo musical items, for example, is very easy. Students can prepare their material on their own and then present to you for notes once or twice a week. For duologues or small group pieces, students will need to rehearse at an agreed time together away from the rest of the cast.
Full cast rehearsals will be needed, especially if you are taking on the challenge of putting on a full-scale production. But establish some major ground rules first. It is important that you control that mute all button, that chat functions are disabled, and everyone focuses on the rehearsal. A good rule if you can manage it, is to say that only those students directly speaking or who are in the scene have their cameras on.
It does not matter what software you use for your rehearsals, but I would recommend that you use one that allows breakout rooms. This way you can divide your cast up into groups and give them their own virtual space within which to talk and rehearse away from the rest of the cast.
Lining everything up
Once you and the students have overcome the strangeness of working in a virtual environment, there are lots of opportunities for some fun. Passing objects across from one screen to another really good fun. As is making eye contact across the virtual landscape and even making it appear as if you are making physical contact. The trick to this is to ask your students to measure up their spaces. To mark out where objects can be passed across. Where to stand to make sure they are making eye contact with the person in the other screen. Or where to stand on the edge of the screen to make it appear that the other person is making physical contact with them.
Green screens and backdrops
Green screens are a perfect way of giving the students a backdrop and set to perform in front of. I never realised until recently that a green screen does not have to be green, it just has to be a colour that the person standing in front of it is not wearing. This means that the students can stand in front of a blue wall or a sheet on the wall behind them. You can edit the green screen effect afterwards. If this is not an option, then some software allows the students to place their own backdrop behind them.
The first and most challenging way of distributing your virtual production is to broadcast it live. You can invite the audience in to watch the performance through the same software you are using to perform it with. The challenge here is not about the performance but technology you are using. Broadcasting live leaves no room for a delayed or downed internet connection!
The second and easier route is to record and edit the production together yourself before you present it to your audience. This gives you the time and opportunity to record things separately and without the stress of having it live to an audience.
The simplest way of getting it your audience is to upload it onto YouTube. If you are worried about safeguarding, you can upload things onto YouTube with a link which means only those with that link can watch it. It is up to you whether you still charge your audience to watch but having a link to the performance means you can sell the link to your audience.