As theatres worldwide are struggling with social distancing regulations that make producing live theatre difficult, Music Theatre International is releasing a new adaptation of the youth musical The Big One-Oh!, specifically designed to be performed by remotely working actors over video conferencing platforms. The Big One-Oh! Online Edition is available for worldwide licensing May 5.
The new work has been adapted from The Big One-Oh!, a family-friendly musical based on a young adult novel by Dean Pitchford (Fame, Footloose), and featuring lyrics by Pitchford, music by Tony-winning orchestrator Doug Besterman, and a book by Timothy Allen McDonald (Roald Dahl's James and the Giant Peach). The story centers on Charley Maplewood, his group of imaginary monster friends, and a 10th birthday party that goes awry. The streaming version debuted last month in a performance by 16 students across 11 states.
Finding a way to perform a musical in a completely new medium was no small task. "It was a giant learning curve because of the limitations in audio in all of the meeting platforms," shares McDonald. "They're designed for corporate people to have meetings and talk one at a time. In theatre, we talk more than one at a time, and we like to sing together. That was the biggest challenge—to find audio settings that would work, and finding placement of the mic and the computers, but we finally did crack the code. It took about 1,000 hours of us on Zoom trying to find out how to make this work."
Licenses of the show come with a director's guide, which offers full instructions for how to rehearse and present the performance online, including how to do choreography and how to put together group musical numbers. Performance accompaniment tracks are also included.
Watch iTheatrics and MTI's workshopped performance from April 17 below.
"I never would have guessed that our show might take musical storytelling into this new frontier,” says Pitchford. "I watched [the world premiere] and was awed to see our characters given life by these wonderful young actors—all of them singing and dancing, popping in and out of frame, and collaborating seamlessly from their own sequestered spaces."
According to McDonald, who is both the book writer of The Big One-Oh! and the world's guru on adapting Broadway musicals for young performers as head of iTheatrics, making this innovative online adaptation is an important part of ensuring theatre—and especially youth theatre—can survive and thrive even during the current health crisis.
"The youth theatre world gets the bulk of their income from summer camps. If people can't do those, I'm really concerned about all of these mom and pop organizations who don't have a lot of federal help right now."
McDonald also shares that more online editions are on their way: "Our goal is to get six or seven of them out by early July. We're going to release them about every three weeks so that theatres that are going to remain in some kind of pause have something to do to continue to engage their kids and earn some income."
For more information, visit MTIShows.com.