- This is Poly
Imagine learning dance steps by Zoom and keeping your right and left foot straight. The anticipated Middle School musical Godspell Junior debuts this month thanks to the incredible efforts of the production crew, cast, and director who rose to the occasion. In the process, actors learned they really liked to dance, played a lead role for the first time, and hit notes they had never reached before.
See how they did when Poly’s Performing Arts Department presents Godspell Jr, the final production of the 2020-21 academic year as a prerecorded performance on May 28 at 7 PM.
“So much of this production required the students to be very independent and responsible and really take ownership of their work, ”said Jill Bolstridge, Director of Godspell Jr. The majority of rehearsals for Godspell took place online. “We only had three 3-hour in-person rehearsals to put everything together and three 8-hour days of filming to capture everything.”
“The final cuts of the vocal performances were recorded independently, from home,” Bolstridge continued, “and Maddy Wyatt, our Music Director, created the final mix through editing. “Normally, we would spend three months rehearsing and perfecting the cast’s vocals in preparation for live singing,” Bolstridge said. “But in this case, Maddy taught their vocal parts online and the kids had to record them on their own, and only at the end were they able to hear the blend of their voices becoming one.”
“Each cast member,” Wyatt explained, “on top of learning their vocal parts via Zoom rehearsals and through guide tracks, had to follow very specific technical directions to record their tracks. On top of that, they recorded independently at home, with only my voice to guide them. I was so impressed with the level to which our cast rose to the occasion in this capacity. They followed directions, sang their parts not just accurately but with feeling, and made my new job of audio engineer very enjoyable.”
“Godspell, like the Upper School production of Songs for a New World, was a variation on live and online presentation,” said David Higham P’07, Lighting Designer and Technical Director. “Although the show was shot live on the stage over a period of three Saturdays it still needed to be produced and recorded for online presentation. It was closer to a ‘normal’ production in that we had a traditional set and it was performed live on stage. Unlike with a live audience, the show was broken down into small segments that were filmed separately using three cameras with changes of scenery, props, and costumes as required. It was a great experience for the students to be able to get together as a cast and for the whole production team to be live with the students to produce theatre, under the circumstances, as close to normal as possible. With only a limited amount of time to rehearse online, the quality of the students’ performances was of a very high standard.”
“We are very fortunate to have Andrew Murdock as our scenic designer this year,” Higham said. “In addition to doing the scenery and props, he also has experience in producing video and online presentations, which was an enormous help in creating the final presentations.”
“I think this show is such a breath of fresh air after this year.”
“Godspell takes place in one world and goes in and out of being a play within a play,” said Murdock. “So the set could exist throughout the show. While in New World we had to be clever in finding ways to transport our audience to different locations.” What makes this production of Godspell different? “I think this show is such a breath of fresh air after this year,” Murdock said. “We went into it as things are slowly opening back up after the pandemic and the coming of spring. That alone I think sets it apart from other versions. Also, being a video, we are able to add to the funk of the show. With fun edits and minimal effects we can enhance the magic of the world and make things happen that are not usually possible on stage. Some of these changes were made by necessity, but that also inspires creativity.”
“All rehearsals to learn lines, choreography, and music occurred over Zoom in the span of seven short weeks this year,” explained choreographer Ashley Hacker. “ In years past, all of these rehearsals would have occurred in person and we would have had 4-5 weeks longer to rehearse. In-person time became paramount and mounting dance pieces and scenes became more methodical, where spots and transitions were carefully mapped beforehand to ensure and maintain social distancing guidelines. Teaching and learning over Zoom had its own challenges —’Which side of the body are you actually moving?’ was a frequent question—so supplemental rehearsal videos breaking apart choreography and showing phrasing from many angles was also necessary to help support student learning. Often it wasn’t until students were able to be on the physical stage space that they were able to practice their entrances, exits, and transitions. I give the students an incredible amount of credit for sticking with it, asking a lot of questions to clarify, working diligently and with focus and remaining super positive throughout.”
Godspell is the first Poly musical for Ryan G. ’25. The eighth grader plays Judas and sings “Prepare Ye” and “All for the Best,” and is a featured dancer. “I learned that I like to dance more than I thought,” said Ryan G. “Being a featured dancer is a tough job, but it’s really fun. I hope that the audience sees that this show is about more than just God and the Bible, because it’s really about community and being a good person.”
Drew W. ’25 plays Jesus in Godspell, which is her fifth show at Poly. “This is my first time playing a male role at Poly,” Drew W. said, “so it was really interesting to portray a character so different from my personal experiences. But, then again that is acting! You get to be anyone and anything you want to express yourself as. Singing for the part of Jesus is generally a lower range, so it has been great getting a new singing experience and singing out of my comfort zone. It is definitely challenging, having to act as one of the most respected and well-known leaders in the world, but Jesus’s morals and the hidden messages within the script have taught me to be a better person in my everyday life.” She added, “Not only am I getting to play a lead, but I also get to work with the younger actors who will be taking over when I go to Upper School.”
“Rehearsal was definitely very different with the restraints and precautions of COVID,” said Drew W. “We all wore masks, and, when filming, we had to stand exactly 6 feet apart at all times. It was really interesting because it felt more like filming a movie than performing musical theater. It was such a fun and enjoyable experience though, waking up early with the excitement to film. It felt so surreal.”
She added, “This experience has made my year a whole lot better.”
What does Drew hope the audience takes away from the show? “I really hope that people come to understand what Jesus’ message was,” she said, “Jesus came to teach people that religion was not the source of light for the world, it was what you contributed. Kindness, compassion, empathy, perseverance, and forgiveness are all messages within the show.”
This is the first Poly production for Runa B. ’27 and she is part of the ensemble.
“Learning and acting the musical was very different this year because we first had to have multiple Zoom rehearsals, and then we had to record the songs, then the wonderful producers put our voices together and added it to the track,” said Runa B. “Then instead of putting on a show on the weekend, we filmed each scene, which then will be edited, and aired via Zoom.”
For Stavroula G. ’25, as one of “The Core Six,” Godspell gave her the opportunity to learn “how I can act while singing because I had my first big singing solo in it.” She added, “I hope our audience takes away a good experience after watching this show.”
“In Godspell, I am one of the disciples,” said Isabelle G.’25. “This is my fifth show and I am so excited to be a part of and continue to be a part of the Poly theater community.” In Godspell, Isabelle said, “I learned that I am a very enthusiastic singer and how I love to sing riffs. When singing “Oh bless the Lord my soul,” I had to hit notes I’ve never had before and definitely discovered a lot about my range.”
“This experience of filming at Poly has definitely been different from the other shows,” Isabelle continued. “I did miss our in-person rehearsals, yet it was just as fun at filming. When we were on stage, it felt the same as a regular show; we were just doing multiple retakes. I think that the teachers made this experience as regular as possible.”
“I hope that the audience takes away from the show that there is hope and change will come,” Isabelle said. “I think Godspell is all about celebrations and learning, which is definitely what we had to do when creating this show.”
After the filming of the cast performances, there was still three weeks of editing by the directors and creative team. “The students will get to watch their final performance on screen, which is unprecedented before this unusual year,” Bolstridge said. “I am extremely proud of how this amazing group of students rose to the challenge. They are, by far, the most amazing, mature, focused, and professional group of young artists with whom I have ever had the pleasure to work. Had they not been so focused and professional, this never would have come together; we relied so much on the students’ independent creativity and responsibility to get their tracks in, to memorize their lines and choreography and blocking on their own, and to come to each filming session fully prepared with far less support from us than they would get in a traditional year.”
Families may register to view the performance by visiting the Parent Portal.