Theater program allows students to collaborate virtually

Chau Nguyen

Wilson’s Theater Department is organizing a Musical Theater Workshop. The club has been in the process of developing five original one-act musicals entirely produced by students, culminating in a staged performance.

Theater students participating in the Workshop this year have had the opportunity to write scripts, or books for five chamber musicals. The accompanying music is either chosen from student-favorite artists or written by student composers.

From April 26 to 30, student directors held auditions for 29 roles and an ensemble of dancers and singers. Auditions were open for Wilson students in all grades, and could be submitted online. Alternatively, in-person auditions were also held with performing arts teacher Daniel Iwaniec, recorded at the Black Box Theater on the 29.

For each submission, the directors are evaluating vocal range, acting skills such as expressiveness and physicalities, stage presence, and whether they meet the specific requirements needed to portray the character.

About 80 percent of those who auditioned were called back. However, callbacks do not necessarily determine the likelihood of landing a role. “Being the best singer, actor, or dancer in the room does not guarantee the best role,” Iwaniec said.

Callbacks were conducted via Microsoft Teams between May 1 and 2 by invitations from individual directors. In the callbacks, directors looked for how the actors interpret the role, how well they take direction, being able to hit certain notes, connect with other actors, and express particular emotions.

Iwaniec noted significant collaborations as many of the directors consulted writers during the casting process.

“A director may want to cast a short actor in a role that was intended for a tall actor. The writer may rewrite parts to better fit the actor,” Iwaniec explained. “Collaboration allows for more flexibility”.  

“Writers have some input,” Olivia Wood, co-writer of “The Illuminated” musical, said. “But casting is ultimately up to the directors.”

The Workshop is also practicing inclusive casting, as a significant number of casting calls was for gender-neutral roles with no specific requirements regarding races or ages. “We want to disrupt how musical theater is written,” Iwaniec said, “we want to be very intentional about creating the flexibility needed to allow everyone the same opportunities.” This is partly influenced by another Wilson’s student-led theater group “Labels Off!” whose method of casting has been received positively over the years.

Writers are also mindful of diversity in musical production and avoid stereotypes in characterization, as the actors are lending their own identity and interpretation to the character. Wood said that writers were only looking for “someone we thought would be a good fit to act and sing the roles.”

Due to the virtual setting, traditional extracurricular performance schedule has been adapted to be a more modest season, with outdoor staged readings of student-written musicals instead of established ones. The greatest challenge has been the inability to plan ahead. Wood described the process as “going with the flow.”

“Not knowing if, when, or how we could have a performance has been extremely difficult,” Iwaniec said. “My mantra throughout the whole process has been to stay open and do your best.”