“See Me: The Music of Lynn Lupold” will be premiering on the Byrum Hall stage Nov. 19 through Nov. 21. Presented by Boze Lyric Theater, the show was filmed by AU’s Black Bird Media Lab consisting of cinema and media arts students and will be live streamed through the three days.
Professor of Dance Kenny Shepard is the mind behind the show and has earned a great deal of recognition from its success.
“‘See Me: The Music of Lynn Lupold’ is based on a show the composer and I wrote and presented a few years ago at the Indy Fringe Festival,” Shepard said. “It was the top-selling show of about 60 at the festival and is based on a pretty unique idea.”
He continued to dive into what makes the show stand out among others.
“It’s part concert, but more of a cabaret in the sense that the cast tells personal stories and sings songs that help the audience get to know them as ‘real people,’” he said. “The twist is that they begin the show looking completely put together: hair, makeup, gowns, the works. Then, as they reveal information about themselves, they peel away these layers and look completely different by the end of the show.”
The show calls for a lot of vulnerability from the cast, and Shepard explained the process of bringing that out of each student.
“I asked the six women to answer some questions and to get as personal and as honest as they dared to be, keeping in mind that up to 1,000 people may be watching based on our other filmed projects this semester,” he said. “They were very forthcoming and shared some funny, poignant and even surprising stories about themselves. It was great.”
The cast consists of six female musical theater majors: one junior and 5 seniors. Seniors Skyla Bruno, Jamie Valentine, Chandler Rasmussen, Brittany Davis, Bobbi Baranek and junior Morgan Budd bring exactly what Shepard was looking for to the stage.
“The whole show has been designed and written for this specific cast,” Shepard said. “I was able to weave their own, personal stories and work with composer Lynn Lupold to customize lyrics to reflect what they wanted to say about themselves. It’s a very different show than the original because their stories are completely different.
“In the original version from the Indy Fringe Festival, we had only four women and their ages ranged from 20s to 60s. I found the AU cast’s stories to be youthful and fresh but with a lot of wisdom too. These women are smart and talented. They’re political and outspoken, and they’re honest.”
Filming a musical and performing without a live audience brings many challenges for everyone, but Shepard said that the process went smoothly thanks to everyone contributing.
“I’ve directed and choreographed more shows than I can count, but this was my first time directing an entire hour and fifteen minutes for a camera,” he said. “The cinema and media arts professors and students were incredibly collaborative and helpful. Despite the new format, we all shared a common goal which is at the heart of musical theatre and showbiz in general, which is teamwork: coming together to tell the same story at the same time in the most moving way possible.”
He also said that he enjoys looking at how shows can happen in different ways through a unique lens.
“I really love staging shows in tiny, challenging spaces, so I tried to think of the camera as an audience of one,” Shepard said. “Our student director, Ben Elliott, and I kept following the cast around with a coat rack which represented where the primary camera would be. Besides being followed around by a coat rack and two men in masks, the strangest thing for the cast was to just talk like normal people because they’re all used to playing characters and speaking loud enough so the back row can hear them. Ben and I kept saying, ‘why are you yelling?’”
With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the challenges facing live performances will persist. Shepard shared that the positivity and hope still remains throughout the program on campus.
“I think the arts at AU has embraced the old showbiz mantra that ‘the show must go on,’” he explained. “It has gone on and is thriving this semester in a big way. I teach at three universities and not all have the collaboration and opportunities our students are finding this semester. This musical will be the fourth filmed event for musical theatre majors since September, and three of those have also involved dancers. Likewise, the dance department was able to pull off Fall Into Dance in a big way. Not an easy feat. I think with the creativity of the department heads including, for this project Fritz Robertson and David Coolidge and the generosity of our composer and my friend, Lynn Lupold, we’re achieving great things.
“I hope the cast has learned a lot about performing for a camera. We had some great advice from our movement coach, Mary Beth Coolidge who spoke about not only giving, but receiving energy from the camera lens, which helped us all. I also hope they’ve learned that we can’t be stopped. Art will happen, despite masks, pandemics and the most challenging of times.”
Junior musical theatre and music business major Morgan Budd shared that because of the depth of this show, she was able to develop even closer relationships with her castmates.
“I thought I knew everyone in this show very well, but I have learned so much that I probably never would have if it weren’t for such a raw show demanding vulnerability,” Budd said. “Our rehearsals were challenging because we always made sure we were six—really 10—feet apart. We had one week of filming, and it seemed so rushed, but the crew was so great that we aren’t worried about it. We gave it our all, even though we miss the audience.”
She said that some overall themes of the show include love, revenge and empowerment, but ultimately vulnerability.
“There’s some humor, but you’ll find us being very vulnerable, especially with our monologues,” she explained. “We’re all ourselves. You see us for who we really are—literally—by the end of the show.”
Budd shared that performing without a live audience was the biggest challenge, but she’s learned a lot through the filming process.
“Having no applause after a big number, or no laughter after a joke is challenging,” she said. “It takes away the beauty of hearing genuine feedback from a live audience. I’ve learned to know my lines and lyrics like the back of my hand. With filming, the most efficient way to get everything done on time is for the cast to know the show perfectly so that the crew can make adjustments whenever need be. I’ve also promised myself to never take advantage of a live audience ever again.”
She hopes that the audience will experience something impactful as they watch the musical premiere, despite it being through a screen.
“I hope our vulnerability shows through the screen,” Budd shared. “I hope people can still watch and be taken away from the real world for an hour or so. I hope it’s an escape. I think we’re gonna have to get used to doing livestreams and pre-recorded shows. Even if we get the chance to do live performances again someday, there’s never a promised truth to going completely back to that. But, for people like me, who want to pursue a career in film, this is great practice and an amazing experience.”