Zionsville Community High School Presents “Songs for a New World: A Virtual Performance”
The Zionsville Community High School Choral and Music Theater proudly presents its production of “Songs for a New World: A Virtual Performance” this fall. And while it will not look or feel like a traditional ZCHS fall musical, the students and staff are diligently working to create a phenomenal production for audiences to enjoy as a virtual experience.
I spoke with Sam Chenoweth, choral and musical theater director at ZCHS, about how the staff and students have been rehearsing and producing this unique video musical version of “Songs for a New World” and how important it is to the program as a whole to garner the support of our community through sponsorships and ticket sales for the virtual production.
A Poignant Production in These Times
“Songs for a New World” is about one moment. It’s about hitting the wall and having to make a choice, or take a stand, or turn around and go back. The first musical from Tony Award winner Jason Robert Brown (“Parade,” “Bridges of Madison County”), this moving collection of powerful songs examines life, love and the choices that we make.
“It was a challenge for us to figure out what to do [for a fall musical] when this all started in March,” Chenoweth said. “‘Sounds for a New World,’ well, first of all, the title is kind of poignant for right now. If you listen to the [musical], it’s all about being on the brink of a decision or a changing point in life. Giving our kids anything to sing about right now is useful, but giving them something to sing about that is meaningful is even more important.”
The production is comprised of a collage of stories, vignettes if you will, and as Chenoweth said, “[The musical] lends itself to physical distancing and isolated rehearsals, so it made sense [to produce]. Plus, it’s also just really beautiful music. Jason Robert Brown writes really good stuff, and it’s not a show that you see at the high school level very often and never here locally before. So, knowing the kids that we have this year, we knew we could pull it off. Throughout the rehearsal process, Isaac [Spillman] and I just kept looking at each other and kept saying, ‘Yeah—there’s no other year that we could have done this, but it is going to be really great.’”
Producing a Musical While Pivoting Around the Safety Protocols
In the spirit of keeping the staff and students safe, Chenoweth, co-director Isaac Spillman and their fellow staff members have intentionally gone about producing this musical using film production methodologies rather than traditional live theater methods of rehearsing and directing group ensembles.
“I keep phrasing it as though we’re making a movie more than a [traditional] musical,” Chenoweth said. “We’ve been rehearsing in clear pods that were assembled to be like recording studios so that the kids can take their masks off and sing. I can still see them, but they are safely rehearsing in those pods using their own mics and headsets.”
Chenoweth continued, “We’re recording all the vocals, and then we’ll set it all on a condensed stage that is more like a film set using lots of projections and video elements. Once we get to November, the kids will come in with a professional [local] band and record—from their pods or booths—and essentially create a cast album. We’ll edit over the weekend to create really good tracks and come back the following week to film the video with the kids lip-syncing over the tracks and acting out the scenes. It’s kind of weird and different but in a way that everybody is excited about. It’s a totally different kind of experience for the cast and crew.”
This year’s cast and crew is made up of 11 singers, eight dancers and 21 kids in the crew. Chenoweth emphasized that he has been relying heavily on Spillman’s film background and the inspiration he is drawing from the filmed version of Broadway’s “Hamilton” that streamed on Disney Plus.
“We are trying to model [our musical] after the style that was used for ‘Hamilton,’” Chenoweth explained. “We’re using cool backdrops, angles and different perspectives and wide-angle shots and close-ups. We will edit it all together, and it will be this really cool video that the kids can have for the rest of their lives and will hopefully be able to look back on this experience as a fulfilling one.”
ZCHS Needs Your Support, So Buy Your Tickets!
It goes without saying that the students and staff heavily rely on the support of our community to keep their choral and theater programs going. So, with that being said … Go buy your tickets and help spread the word!
“This [experience] has been a good outlet for me, the staff and the students,” Chenoweth expressed. “Even while standing in their individual booths, the concept of making music and creating a show together is a ‘normal’ thing for them and is really healthy for them right now. It’s been a positive experience, and they’ve been coming in [for rehearsals] excited and eager to do something productive and creative. It’s been great, and they’re doing an excellent job at building a fantastic show, and that is what we all need right now.”
Save the date for Friday, Nov. 20, 2020, for ZCHS’ presentation of “Songs for a New World: A Virtual Performance”! Tickets and virtual performance information is available online at zionsvillepac.org/events.
Virtual Access Presale
$20 per household
Sales began Friday, Oct. 23 at 11 a.m.
Tickets available at zionsvillepac.org/events.