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Theatre company forges ahead with online production

Posted on 08 May 2020

Alpine Theatre Project creates 'Young Frankenstein' production remotely

Alpine Theatre Project never backed down from the challenge.
Instead, the group of youths who were preparing for their production of 'Young Frankenstein' soldiered on through the pandemic, rehearsing and filming their scenes entirely in isolation.

grace benkelman, alpine theatre project production of young frankenstein, montana living, luke walrath, betsi morrison, montana theatres


Their product was not sold-out houses, as per usual with Alpine Theatre Project's shows, but instead they created a film of their production.
Here's how they did it, explains director Luke Walrath.
"We were a week into rehearsals on the show when we went into lockdown. We'd really only gone over some of the ensemble vocals in Act 1. When we were faced with the prospect of cancelling, Betsi started trying to come up with solutions. Eventually, she came down our home stairs one night and said, 'I know what we're going to do. We're going to make a movie.'"

"Betsi began conceiving the show for video, going back over the script and trying to figure out what it would look like. She ordered green-screens and costumes via Amazon and had them shipped directly to the kids' home. The original idea was to have the kids in front of green screens and do the whole show via Zoom. We quickly learned after one rehearsal that lag time between students was going to make that impossible. We knew then that each student would have to record both audio and video separately and we would have to edit it all together. However, breaking out of the "Zoom box" opened up the possibility of creating the illusion that the kids were in the same room. We just had to figure out how.
Here's the whole process workflow of putting it together:
STEP 1: AUDIO
1. I recorded "scratch tracks" where I sang each part (me singing soprano was pretty rough), and we distributed these to each student via email as an mp3.
2. We would then hold a rehearsal on Zoom (with the kids on mute) where I would talk about the sound and feel of each song
3. The kids would play the scratch track through headphones and sing their songs or parts into their phones as voice memos. They'd send those to me as mp3s via email.
4. I'd upload the mp3's to a Google Drive folder shared with our friend Eric Michael Krop in LA. He would take the raw vocal files and EQ them so they didn't sound so "phone-like". He'd then reupload these files to a separate Google Drive folder.
5. I'd take the files that Eric mixed and mix them into master song track using Adobe Audition that we could record video to and send that back to the kids via email as an mp3
STEP 2: VIDEO
1. Betsi had to storyboard the entire show knowing that the kids could only shoot from about the waist up. She also had to figure out backgrounds and effects that worked with each scene. She had to know exactly which way each kids should look, and where they would be placed in the final composite
2. Betsi would hold rehearsals on Zoom with the kids to explain each scene and look at each costume,  etc
3. For choreography, Betsi recorded separate videos demonstrating moves and then send to the kids via YouTube or email
4. For scenes, Betsi would talk to each student via Zoom and give them their blocking
5. The kids would then record themselves in front of their green screens while talking to each other on the phone so they could get the timing correct
6.The students would upload their videos to a share Dropbox folder or via iPhoto
7. I would import each video in the Adobe After Effects and take out the green screen
7. Betsi and I then sat down in our little office at home, and she would talk me through how each scene should look, what backgrounds to use, and where each actor should be placed. We compiled the whole thing in Adobe Premiere Pro. 
A lot of steps, and it was all happening at once (we were recording/mixing audio on later scenes while we were recording/editing video on other scenes). It was crazy. We had to borrow an extra computer and buy a new hard drive after we blew through 3TB of data storage. It was A LOT of trial and error and Betsi was constantly talking the kids through everything and making sure we had all the footage we needed.
If I'm honest, I'm sure there were plenty of times when the kids had no idea what was going on, since they didn't know what the final product would look like, but they trusted Betsi and gave it their all. However, when the final video went up, I think they were all very proud and pleased with the result.
The end result is certainly rough in a few places, but we were determined to make it within the original production schedule and we had no money to hire extra help. The entire project was really to show the kids (and us) that creativity and hard work can provide solutions to tough challenges. 
 
student Luca Welle working on makeup with Betsi Morrison via Zoom, Alpine Theatre Project whitefish Montana, Young Frankenstein, Montana Living

Student Luca Welle works on makeup with Betsi Morrison via Zoom in Alpine Theatre Project production of Young Frankenstein

alpine theatre project, young frankenstein production, betsi morrison, grace benkelman, luke walrath, montana living

Grace Benkelman rehearses a scene for the production.

alpine theatre project, young frankenstein production, betsi morrison, grace benkelman, luke walrath, montana living

One of the actor's makeshift rehearsal and recording studio for Alpine Theatre Project's production of "Young Frankenstein."

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