Youth Arts Ambassadors to present virtual High School Musical Jr. performances

The Springfield Arts Council’s Youth Arts Ambassadors (YAA) program has had to make shifts in the past year from in-person to virtual, and they’ve taken the change as an opportunity to do something new.

On Friday, April 30, and Saturday, May 1, the YAA will present a virtual performance of their production of High School Musical Jr. Though they have done other virtual performances in the past year, this one won’t be in a live format via Zoom like the others.

“For this show, for the musical we wanted to find a way that as least the kids could be together in person, even if we couldn’t have a live audience,” says Krissy Brown, the Springfield Arts Council’s Arts Education Director. “We kind of put it together like a movie. It’s a much, much different experience than anything the kids have ever done.”

Instead of performing and recording an on-stage version of the musical, the cast and crew took to Kenton Ridge High School to block out the performance in a similar scenario to the well-loved movie it’s based on.

Virtual audiences will see scenes performed in the cafeteria, theatre, locker-lined hallways, and more.

The middle and high school students who are part of YAA did many of their rehearsals at home via Zoom, or by sending in videos of their performances to get follow-up notes on choreography and songs, Brown says.

“They came together in March so the kids could start putting it all together in person,” she says, adding that one of the major changes included the vocals for the songs being prerecorded before the in-person acting on set was recorded.

Another shift the student performers had to take in stride included performing the scenes out of order.

“Normally when we do a show, you start at the top of the show and go through to the end,” Brown says. “But the very first thing we did was in the middle of the story and the last thing we filmed was definitely not the last thing you see in the show, so it just comes together a lot differently that it normally would.”

And, both the performers and the tech and production crews had to learn new methods fit for camera versus the stage.

“It’s not something we would have done typically because we focus on live theater, and acting for the camera and acting for the stage are two totally different things,” Brown says. “But it was really exciting for the production team and the kids in the cast to learn this whole new skill set that typically we never would have focused on in the past.”

Though the past year wasn’t the theater season the YAA program had planned for, Brown says she’s thankful for the unexpected opportunities it has provided.

“There are so many struggles and things taken a way during the pandemic, but there’s things like this that I’m grateful that I have had to think so creatively to make things happen that it’s opened these new doors that these kids have now been able to put something together in a completely new way,” she says. “I always talk about how theater helps train kids in all these different life skills – flexibility and adaptability and responsibility – and that really, really came through in this experience.

“I thought it was a really great experience for them.”

Though the goal for YAA is to get back to their traditional, in-person performance roots, Brown says they’ll keep an open mind in the future to possibly find ways to incorporate these skills into some shows to help kids continue to build on these new skillsets.

One additional perk of virtual theater performances is the accessibility and reach of each performance. Brown says many of the students have talked about the excitement of family and friends who haven’t been able to travel to see past performances now being able to watch and enjoy the show virtually.

“It worked out really well that kids get to have more family and friends able to attend,” she says.

Middle and high school students interested in applying for the YAA program should watch the YAA Facebook page for applications to be posted this summer, Brown says.

Want to check out the YAA High School Musical Jr. performance for yourself? Visit the sale site here, or find the link through the Springfield Arts Council website.

Tickets will be sold for timed performances. These will not be on-demand tickets, because of rights and royalties, Brown says.

Tickets are $12 for performances at 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 30; and both 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 1.
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Read more articles by Natalie Driscoll.