Performing Arts – Senior Musical – Disney’s Freaky Friday
Amidst the challenges and upheaval of this year it is even more important to celebrate the victories. I would like to share with you our story of perseverance. We were able to achieve something this year that many others have not – we performed a musical. This is how we did it.
In late 2019, Music Theatre International granted us the performance rights to Disney’s Freaky Friday. The story is best known due to the popular 2003 film, where overworked mother Katherine (Jamie Lee Curtis) and her teenage daughter Ellie (Lindsay Lohan) magically swap bodies, and have just one day to put things right again. The musical adaptation has a contemporary Musical Theatre / Pop score, a modern setting, a laugh-out-loud script, two leading ladies at the helm, a fantastic supporting cast with fun ensemble numbers, and has important messages of empathy and connection at its core. There was plenty to be excited about, including the fact that we were going to stage the metro-Melbourne premiere!
We embarked on the audition process for the musical in November 2019, and were ready to roll in Week 1 of Term 1 this year with a stellar cast. Rehearsals were filled with animation and laughter. Rachel Bronca’s choreography was slick, sharp and fun. The singing style suited the voices of the cast – admirably led by Tim Collins’ Musical Direction. The VCE Theatre Studies production team had taken up the challenge of creating designs, action and direction to bring the show to life. All was going smoothly in readiness for our first performance at the end of April, and we were having a great time piecing it all together.
However, Term 2 was a very different story. COVID-19 restrictions caused Performing Arts industries across the globe to shut down. However, our hiatus from face-to-face rehearsals provided us with more time to delve into character development in weekly rehearsals online, as well as review rehearsal footage from Term 1 to evaluate acting skills and direction. The cast were positive and flexible with their approach to this shift, and we were even able to hold a couple of rehearsals together in the final weeks of Term, which provided a welcome confidence boost. As we left for our mid-year break, we were feeling confident about performing the show in Term 3.
We eventually reached the point where the show would not be able to be performed due to restrictions and uncertainty around possible production dates. Cancellation was on the cards. Disappointment gave way to stubbornness pretty quickly – there must be a way to honour the work of the cast and production team. How creative could we be to make this musical work? I posed this question to the Theatre Studies class, and the process to shift the show from the physical theatre space to the digital realm began.
We had to completely rethink how to present this show to an audience through a screen. Set designers turned their thinking to virtual backgrounds, makeup designers adjusted their face charts for screen purposes, costume designers focussed on the details of the upper body and best-matching their designs to what the cast had available in their wardrobes, directors had to find a way to ensure the characters and narrative arc made sense in a new medium – especially for blocking that contained sight gags, choreography or physical interaction, and producers had to do a crash course in Zoom features, recording and editing.
It was time to up the ante. We gave ourselves a two-week turnaround – a challenge in itself. Rehearsals were held via Zoom meetings, and we quickly established a common virtual stage language – turning cameras on/off for entrances and exits, a stage manager narrating the scene settings, the placement and focus of the camera to help connect with the audience, using household objects as props – the works. The biggest challenges were space, internet lag time, and sound quality and delays. We had to make a few adjustments, as ensemble singing was an impossibility in a live online performance. We also had to make wide sweeping changes to the choreography without affecting the tone of the scenes and songs. The energy and perseverance of the cast and crew kept us pushing forward.
We had set aside a Friday evening and Sunday afternoon to perform Act 1 and 2 respectively. Act 1 went well – the cast hit their stride and found a good rhythm, showcasing the months of hard work they had invested in their characters. Act 2 was thwarted by a Telstra network attack on the Sunday, meaning only a third of the cast could login. So, somewhat poetically, we completed our production of Freaky Friday the following Friday evening. As you will see on their faces, this provided the cast with a well-earned sense of achievement and pride. In a year when so much has been taken away, they were able to see something through to its completion, and have been able to share its joy with others.
Congratulations to the cast and crew of Freaky Friday for their tenacity, perseverance, positive attitudes and creative mindset. We did not let the virus divide us. What a ride it has been.
The International Zoom Premiere of the production can be found on the Freaky Friday production portal page HERE, which can be accessed if logged in as a St Catherine’s Student.
Enjoy the show.