Isabella Hudziak, Special Assignments Reporter
“Announcing auditions for Something Rotten! the musical at Utica College! We have been given permission to do a COVID safe in-person musical that will be recorded and streamed online for viewing!” proclaimed a post on Utica College Theatre’s Facebook page on Jan. 28. The post introduced Director Jason Francey, Music Director Lynne Ferrara and Choreographer Sophia Hartnett. The auditions, which were completely digital, were accepted between posting and Feb. 10.
The audition materials, which contained two separate audition tracks for speaking roles and dance ensemble, were included in a link on the Facebook post. The audition period, which ran the span of two weeks, was to ensure that students could have enough time to practice the material before submission. Auditioners were required to sign in with their Utica College credentials to gain access due to COVID restrictions on community involvement.
Last semester, Utica College sponsored the War of the Worlds radio play in lieu of a regular in-person play. Practices were held via Zoom and actors, separated into different rooms, were recorded with microphones on air.
“The biggest hurdle to pass in getting approval was feeling confident enough that we’d come up with a reasonably ‘COVID-proof’ way to make it happen,” said Faculty Theater Director Laura Salvaggio. “There were also some hurdles of making sure we had all the people we might need to do this show without the involvement of people outside of UC, because of the way we have had to secure campus for COVID safety.”
While the Fall 2020 play was funded by the Allin4UC donation campaign, the musical will be selling tickets. The rights to Something Rotten! are licensed by MTI, which has a sister company that uses the “ShowTix4U” platform. Discounted student tickets will be available for $10, while general admission prices are staged at $25 and $40.
“There will also be a scheduled show where the audience can participate in a chat box conversation with actors and crew,” Salvaggio said. “While we are going to miss having a live audience in the room with us, there are advantages in how this platform will allow us to perform for our family and old friends across the country.”
The musical will have a traditional crew to expose students to the real-life stage shows in the theatre career field. However, with the digital platform being utilized, Gabriella Hudziak, a senior studying communications and creativity, is assisting as video production manager. Those who work on the Something Rotten! project will be eligible to take the one-credit theatre practicum class.
“We will minimize the numbers we need and are likely to have some crew that would usually be in the tiny tech booth located in a bigger space, but the crew will exist and they will play their part,” said Salvaggio.
Despite auditions being submitted digitally, practices will be in-person. The cast and crew will be tested weekly as a collective rather than separately throughout the week. In order to maintain safety, the practices will be spread across a classroom and the theatre. Social distancing will be employed during production, which allows for some creativity.
Costume Designer Kristin Palazolli will be crafting custom masks for the characters that will contain clear sections for visible mouth movements and the set will be reminiscent of a town square during the Renaissance.
Jason Francey, the assistant director of college engagement, will be adding Something Rotten! to his repertoire of directing. As the director, he has a hand in casting and the creative process of breathing life into the script.
“I focus on two things: character development and spatial relationship,” Francey said. “The cast will spend about three rehearsals sitting at a table and getting the personality of the character and voice down. When we transition to the stage, it’s like a game of chess: making sure the actors are in positions that if someone took a picture at any moment, you can get the gist of what’s happening.”
The show will be promoted with posters across campus with an extra emphasis on the digital aspect. Hearkening back to pre-COVID theatre roots, Something Rotten! will have stickers and t-shirts for the cast and crew. For the audience, promotional material will be scattered across the next few weeks before the show airs from April 22 to April 24.
“I have a few promo videos that are going to be a lot of fun coming out over the next couple of weeks,” teased Public Relations Intern Hannah DeStefano. “We’re going to do fun bloopers and introductions, too.”
Salvaggio has used fragments of Something Rotten! in her theatre classes for a movement exercise. The amateur licensing rights, which apply to Utica College’s theatre program, were released last February. After hosting several productions that spotlighted death, the theatre department wanted to put on something more light-hearted.
“This show has a few themes, but the two that feel incredibly appropriate are 1. ‘Do what is true to you and do it with love.’ and 2. ‘When life gives you eggs, make an omelet,’” said Salvaggio. “That first one especially seems to address a certain void in loving those other than ourselves that has led to some troubling situations in our country during this time.”