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How to Put on a Virtual Production Program

posted on Jul 27 2020

by Taylor Ann Spencer, Program Manager

kids on virtual class remote rehearsal for a production dancing

When we decided to take our spring production programs online, we had no idea what we were getting into. How complicated could it be to record a few scenes and edit them together?

A lot more complicated than we thought.

Four months later, we’ve successfully recorded and edited three virtual musicals, and we’ve learned a LOT along the way. Are these virtual production programs a lot more work than we anticipated? Yes. Are they doable? Absolutely!

Whether you’re already knee-deep in a summer virtual production program or considering options for fall, relax! Here’s everything you need to know to put on your own virtual production and give the kids in your community a great theater experience from home!

Pre-Production

Script Yourself for Success

Unless you have 10 film editors and three solid months to edit, keep the script short! Plan to record 10 scenes at the most. And limit your music to 2-3 iconic songs: musical numbers take much longer to edit, and also require more independent work for the cast (and their parents!)

kids on zoom remote learning having fun in virtual class

When you’re cutting your script, choose key scenes across the full timeline of the show that contain important plot points. Don’t stress about creating a continuous story—you can always write narration to fill in gaps in the storyline and help you transition from one scene to the next!

Make Sure to Feature Everyone

Virtual productions best showcase cast members with scripted lines. With that in mind, make sure ahead of time that every cast member has a least one scene with lines. If your cast is large, consider double-casting some of the larger roles. You can also bulk up smaller parts by giving those cast member narrator lines. Do your best to ensure everyone gets at least one shining moment!

Double-Check Your Tech

The key to a production program is the ability to record virtually, so double (and triple) check that you know exactly how you plan to do it. Whatever platform you’re using, make sure you understand not only how to record on it, but also what will be recorded. If there are multiple views, which view will you see? Are there ways to record separate audio files? Where do the recordings go—and if they’re set up to go to a cloud, what’s your storage capacity? You want to figure all this out in advance . . . not when you’re in a virtual room with kids waiting to record their first scene!

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Production

Ask for Vocal and Choreography Videos to be Independently Submitted

It’s impossible to get a decent virtual recording of anything musical that involves multiple people. Even if everyone’s tech is running absolutely perfectly, the split-second delay that exists on all virtual platforms ruins any chance of a cohesive ensemble recording.

Rather than trying to make the impossible work, ask all cast members to submit independent videos of themselves singing and dancing to the chosen musical numbers. They can do this using the camera app on any smartphone; then all they need to do is send it to you so you can include it in your musical edits!

Shoot Scenes in Small Separate Groups

While it would be great to have the full cast present for each virtual recording session (similar to an in-person rehearsal process), it’s really not practical. Instead, make a schedule for each session with specific times blocked out for different scenes and ask cast members to only come for any time blocks when they are specifically recording.

happy kids on zoom being together as a virtual class

In the recording sessions, keep the atmosphere light and the tone upbeat. Remember that this is new to everyone, and encourage the cast members to speak with lots of energy and look up at the camera. And above all, have FUN!

Keep a Community Cast Vibe

With individually submitted music videos and small group scene recordings, it’s important to take time to bring the full cast together! Start each day with a 20 or 30-minute full cast session that everyone attends. This is your chance to do warm-ups, play games, and go over that day’s recording schedule and any announcements. With everyone in isolation, everyone is craving that sense of community, so make sure you make it a priority!

Keep kids engaged while they learn remotely!

Post

Do NOT underestimate the editing time!

We won’t sugar-coat it: editing virtual production programs is a beast! Whether you’re using Adobe Premiere or iMovie, it takes a lot of time and energy. If you can, start editing while you’re still in production. This gives you the opportunity to do pick-up recordings if you need them, as well as get a head-start on the post-recording work. If you can, get a few people working with you. We started with one editor and ended with a team of three!

Celebrate with a Viewing Party!

Now more than ever, it’s important to come together to celebrate accomplishments and milestones—so don’t forget to celebrate! Given current circumstances, an in-person cast party may not be possible, but you CAN have a virtual viewing party where you debut and share the recording of the finished production! Don’t forget to pile on the congratulations before and after you show the recording! Everyone’s worked so hard—they should feel proud of what they’ve accomplished!

kids dancing on zoom remote arts theater class virtual production
It turns out coordinating a kick line virtually is even harder than in real life!

We may not know whether we will be able to have in-person production programs in the fall, but at least we know this: no matter what, we have options! Whether it’s in-person or virtual, we can keep theater programs going strong in the months to come.

If you’re intimidated by the organization and process of a virtual production program, don't complicate it! Contact us for a quote on how we can put on a virtual production program for you in your community!

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Taylor Ann Spencer

posted on Jul 27 2020

by Taylor Ann Spencer

Taylor Ann is an NYC-based theater artist and children's theater director. After graduating from Hope College with a BFA in theater and creative writing, she toured with Missoula Children's Theatre for a year before moving to New York City. Taylor Ann was the Supervisor for mainstages Theater Camp Long Island in its' inaugural summer in 2018.