Songs for a New World Production Dramaturg, Matthew Reddin, posed a series of questions to Director, Kara Scaramazza about the unique process of directing a musical virtually. Keep reading to hear her thoughts!
How would you describe Songs to someone who knew nothing about the show?
Songs for a New World is a song cycle musical; each song feels like its own story although there are small threads to link stories and ideas. It presents primarily solo and duet songs with groups pieces flanking the top and finale.
What excited you most about getting to work on this project as a director?
I was excited to try something totally different, knowing this piece would be a hybrid (both remote and in-person) style of theater. I am really interested in how theater is evolving during this pandemic through film and other mediums. When there are restrictions on what can be done… it is fun to reimagine what you can do. Taj (Director of Photography) and I spent time working together over Zoom just figuring what we wanted certain transitions and effects to look like after filming was completed.
How did the pre-recorded and socially distanced format of this production shape the way you directed the show?
This was a very much a learning curve. Performing can be a very personal experience. As a director, you are there to guide and listen to the artist and feed off their impulses; doing this in a mostly remote manner was difficult. I try to take a gentle approach and start with some brief table work. This cast walked in with so many fun and exciting ideas that I hadn’t considered so I really enjoyed pursuing their ideas.
For Hear My Song, I approached it from a choreographic POV first. I am a dance and movement person, so this is usually my way in. I knew I wanted to create movement that felt ‘warm & fuzzy’ and had a sense of unity and togetherness. I knew all the movement would need to be socially distanced. I sketched the space in scale and approximated how much space each body would need and ran with it. From there, I started considering how I wanted the piece to look. I knew I would want the shapes to feel complete and unifying through symmetry. I also utilized constellations as an inspiration for blocking (shout out to Matthew Reddin, Dramaturg). I sat for a week or so concerned none of these ideas would work in a room. I created plan a’s and plan b’s and added additional movement phrasing to these shapes to pair with the vocals.
As a choreographer there are very few rules since you are creating movement. You can choreograph anything… but having the ability to self-edit can sometimes be the more challenging part. With Hear My Song, it was a secret blessing to have such a specific framework for which movement could happen. When we finally got in the theater and started facilitating the movement with the cast… I finally had a moment of relief knowing what I imagined in my head was going to work with minor adjustments. The actors were incredible. It was great energy just being in the space together.
Which song(s) surprised or excited you most during the creative process?
Christmas Lullaby really surprised me. When I first started working through this piece on my own, I was blocked and frustrated. Meghan Deitzler, Peter (Music Director), and I had an amazing table work conversation our first rehearsal which completely changed my mind about this piece. Meghan mentioned “The Annunciation” painting and brought up ideas like humble joy and divine grace. These ideas were an ‘Aha’ moment to me. I computed her ideas into a physical life and I suggested some movement shapes as a springboard.
I was excited about Just One Step. Just One Step was our first day outside, somewhat together, and facing the elements. We spent lots of time figuring out how to do this piece via Zoom so it was really gratifying to work with Taj on the framing, add the actor, and see Cristy do her thing through the windows. For a little insight—Taj set up a camera that follows the actor so we would set the shot and then leave the space so the actor could perform outside while we monitored via Zoom and through some glass windows.
Were there any lessons you learned while a student in Villanova’s program that served you well during this process, or in your career as a director in general?
Yes. Honestly, my time at Villanova went so quick. Having that time after to reflect on everything I accomplished was important.
One lesson I have learned, of many, from my time at Villanova is to try things, trust in yourself, and listen to your body. I use a gentle ‘jump in’ method to directing, movement, and choreography. When I am lost, I usually try to rely on physical impulse; it helps me get out of my head and create a starting point.
What’s a favorite memory from the rehearsal process you’d like to share?
There were so many incredible moments. Collaborating with such a great team was incredible! I am used to either choreographing and leaving a production or having multiple responsibilities along with directing.
The weekend the cast and crew was together filming Hear My Song was my favorite. It felt the most like the type of theater we know and love. The warm lights, the costumes, the set, the ensemble, everything all in one space… it felt like a somewhat normal tech. This year has been incredibly tough for so many reasons. Being able to create theater has been such joy. I am honored.
Make sure to catch Songs for a New World streaming from January 28 – February 7! For more information about the show, click here.