World Premiere of Five 15-Minute Musicals

From Feb. 12 to Feb. 28, the Baldwin Wallace Music Theatre department gave a virtual performance of five world premiere 15-minute musicals in collaboration with the Beck Center and the National Alliance for Musical Theatre. Victoria Bussert, Director of BW’s Music Theatre program, served on the final selection committee for the 15-minute musical competition created by NAMT.

BWMT’s yearly collaboration with the Beck Center was originally going to be the musical, “Rent,” but due to the pandemic the team decided to go in a different direction. Bussert chose five musicals from the 15-minute musical competition for BWMT students to perform virtually.

“Perpetual Sunshine and the Ghost Girls” is based off the true story of the women who fought the United States Radium Corporation in the 1920s for knowingly poisoning them; “Holo” is set in 2189 in a holograph museum; “Rodeo Clowns” is a queer, western epic about two outcasts that save their town; “Monster on the Lawn” is about a 6-year-old boy who wakes up to see a whale-like creature in his front lawn that he finds comfort in when the boy and his family are nearly separated by a hurricane; and “White Man’s Burden” spotlights the suffering of African Americans throughout 400 years.

“We wanted to attempt these specific five because of the different diversity requirements. We wanted to have appeal to our entire program. I wanted to make sure that I was choosing things that were primarily age appropriate roles that the students could portray,” Bussert said. She and the rest of the BWMT team wanted the directors and creative teams of each musical to have some type of connection to the work that they were directing.

Due to the musicals being filmed and streamed online, directors were able to do things for a screen that they could not typically do on a stage. Different lighting techniques were used that worked “great for film but would have read completely different if the performance were live on a stage,” Bussert said. Filters, graphics and various editing techniques were added to tell the individual stories that each of these musicals had.

Bussert directed “Perpetual Sunshine” and said that the biggest hurtle  was managing COVID-19 regulations. “We were super super safe. That was part of the challenge. It would have been really counter-intuitive to abandon COVID rules because these pieces were written during the pandemic.”

Despite these challenges, —they prevailed and reaped many rewards and learning experiences. Bryan Bowser, chair of the Music Theatre department, touched on the new skills that BWMT students have been able to learn through rehearsal processes during the pandemic. Bowser said, “Students are gaining a unique new skill set that is different from their predecessors. They are learning how to self-tape and to see what they appear like on camera amongst other things.”

Jenna Coffey, a senior stage management major who stage managed all five musicals, said  she was able to grow her communication skills because of the mostly remote rehearsal process. Performing a musical completely virtually is a new experience that many people in the theatre world have never done before. Coffey said “They found a really creative way to bring people back to the theatre. I think this is something BW has never done before.”