U-M School of Music, Theatre & Dance announces innovative, student-driven virtual season

November 19, 2020
Written By:
Sydney Hawkins
  • umichnews@umich.edu

The University of Michigan’s School of Music, Theatre & Dance is set to present its first-ever fully virtual season.

Beginning Wednesday, Dec. 2, the school’s University Productions department will release six productions over the course of three weeks. A new production will be released every Wednesday and Friday through December 18. All performances will be free and available to the public for a limited time.

Much like a normal production season, the fall 2020 season features highlights from the departments of Musical Theatre and Theatre & Drama, as well as two releases from the University Opera Theatre. The productions themselves, however, will look quite different.

“COVID-19 may have stopped us from having audiences, but it hasn’t stopped SMTD students from creating,” said Paul Hunter, production manager for the school’s University Productions. “This fall, we were faced with the same challenge every performing arts organization has faced this year: How can we put on performances safely? The answer? With the same creativity we use to approach all of our productions.”

The season has been recorded in person and remotely throughout the semester in accordance with SMTD’s approved safety plan. All safety protocols for the performing arts were observed in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The season digitally premieres with “A Beautiful Country,” a Theatre & Drama production originally intended for the 2019-20 season, which uses drag, drama and documentary elements to examine the fundamental questions surrounding the immigrant experience, including what it means to be an American.

Other highlights include “MT Ghostlight 2020,” a compilation of student-driven performances from the Musical Theatre department that seeks to bring a new kind of light to the darkened theaters on U-M’s campus. “MT Ghostlight 2020” will air during three episodes over consecutive Friday nights in December.

The season is rounded out with two releases from the University Opera Theatre—a night of “Opera One-Acts,” featuring workshop performances of two newer works, and “Proving up,” a fully staged performance of Missy Mazzoli’s haunting chamber opera about Nebraska Homesteaders and the American Dream, recorded live (without an audience) in the Power Center.

The full schedule of U-M School of Music, Theatre & Dance performance releases will be featured on SMTD’s YouTube channel. It includes:

A Beautiful Country // Department of Theatre & Drama
8 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 2

Using dance, drag, drama and documentary elements, “A Beautiful Country” chronicles 150 years of Asian American immigration history. Miss Visa Denied, a transgender drag queen and performer, is the narrator who guides the audience through the turbulent history of Chinese, Filipino and Japanese people coming to America. Heartfelt testimonials and the dramatization of some highly vibrant and egregious pieces of propaganda showcase the provocative events that have shaped this history. Addressing issues of race, gender and appropriation, this play examines the fundamental questions surrounding the immigrant experience, including what it means to be an American.

The production was recorded over two weeks in the Arthur Miller Theatre and various remote locations. It will receive its premiere on Facebook and be available for one week beginning at 8 p.m. Dec. 2.

MT Ghostlight 2020 // Department of Musical Theatre
8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 4, Dec. 11 and Dec. 18 (three episodes)

In theater tradition, a ghostlight—usually a single bulb—remains on an empty stage when a theater goes dark, to appease the spirits. Faced with the near impossibility of putting on a fully staged production during a pandemic, the Department of Musical Theatre has chosen to provide a new kind of ghostlight: an online-only revue of the best that the department has to offer.

This student-driven production will feature songs, skits and dances directed, choreographed, performed, and in some cases, written by students from across the Department of Musical Theatre. The revue observes classics of musical theater and pop, to folk and jazz.

This production was recorded in October and November in the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre, the Arthur Miller Theatre, and remotely. It will be released in three installments over three weeks, on Fridays beginning Dec. 4 at 8 p.m. Each episode will be available for one week.

Opera One-Acts // University Opera Theatre
8 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 9

The University Opera Theatre will showcase two new works—each around 30 minutes in length—in a stripped-down performance on the U-M’s North Campus.

The first opera, “All Wounds Bleed,” is a retelling of the myth of Echo & Narcissus in three scenes and an epilogue, composed by Pulitzer Prize finalist Christopher Cerrone with libretto by Tony Asaro. It features three vocalists—a soprano, a mezzo and a tenor—as nymph Echo, goddess Hera and self-adoring Narcissus, respectively.

The second opera, “Daughters of the Bloody Duke,” is a dark comedic one-act opera written by Jake Runestad, in which Margot, the young daughter of the Bloody Duke of Ravenswood, must choose between love and the demands of her revenge-crazed family.

The performance was recorded live with piano accompaniment in the McIntosh Theatre on Oct. 9. It will premiere at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 9, where it will be available for a one-week run. Both operas will be sung in English.

Proving Up // University Opera Theatre
8 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 16

Based on the short story by Karen Russell, “Proving Up” is an intimate and haunting look at the perils of the American Dream. Set in Nebraska in the 1870s at the height of the push west, a family of homesteaders struggles to meet the daunting requirements of the Homestead Act as they try “proving up” on their land claim. This atmospheric new chamber opera from composer Missy Mazzoli features a sparse cast and orchestra, and was selected as one of The New York Times’ Best Classical Music of 2018 selections.

The performance was recorded live in the Power Center. It will premiere at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Dec.16, where it will be available for a one-month run. “Proving Up” is sung in English with an approximate run time of 80 minutes.