Muny Kids and Teens Rise to Virtual Season Challenge
When The Muny’s 2020 season moved virtual, difficult decisions also had to be made regarding all Muny education programs. Thanks to incredible adaptability, The Muny Kids and Teens were able to play featured roles in The Muny 2020 Summer Variety Hour Live! series. Here’s a look at how it all came together.
In early March, the Technical Theatre Training (T3) Program was launching, auditions for Muny Kids, Muny Teens and the Muny/Webster Intensive were complete (with offers being made), Make a Musical was in final rehearsals, and it was prime St. Louis High School Musical Theatre Awards season. Of course, things quickly changed. “We knew the landscape of theatre education would have to look different not only for the upcoming season, but also well beyond,” says Tali Allen, Muny Director of Education. “We opted to cancel T3 and the Muny/Webster Intensive, but we were able to work with area educators to move the theatre awards to an online celebration.”
Tali adds that the Variety Hour provided an opportunity to incorporate the Muny Kids and Teens into the production—by featuring the entire troupes and by having some of the kids and teens participate in other numbers as well.
“Figuring this all out was an incredible lesson in collaboration, teamwork and adaptability,” she says. “I am so proud of our creative teams, and blown away by all 30 Muny Kids, 27 Muny Teens and their entire families. This was not an easy task—but they made it happen!”
Left: Some in-person rehearsals and recordings were possible; however with only 15-20 minute windows
Right: A glimpse at one of the many pages of handwritten notes Director of Education Tali Allen used to organize the Muny Kids and Teens’ recording schedules.
A glimpse at The Muny Kids’ finished product during The Muny Summer Variety Hour Live! series finale.
Rebecca Mooney joined other Muny Kids in sharing signs and other homemade props during another Variety Show performance.
Muny Teens Nathaniel Mahone and Holland States taking a break backstage during the Muny’s 2019 production of Matilda.
The Reality of Pivoting and Plot Twists
For each Variety Hour piece, both groups were not only learning the music and choreography remotely, but they all were also self-recording and submitting their vocals and choreography videos on tight deadlines. Meanwhile, the creative teams were also pivoting to the realities of teaching, coaching and creating community remotely.
Both groups utilized Zoom as their virtual learning platform, with rehearsals almost daily. Collectively, they created seven brand new pieces incorporating 10 different songs. If they were not in a vocal lesson, they were in a choreography session. If they were not in either, they were likely recording their submissions for the show’s producers and editors. Muny Kid Choreographer Gabi Stapula summarizes the summer with two words: “plot twist.”
“With every ‘plot twist’ the kids and their parents were understanding and ready for whatever was next,” Gabi says. “Their creativity, dedication and love for creating an innovative musical theatre experience is nothing short of inspiring.”
Charlie Mueller, Muny Teen Music Director, says the teens’ resilience, drive and dedication have never been more apparent. “They blow me away every summer, but with the constant changes this season brought, they rose to the challenge and then some. It’s truly incredible all they made happen.”
Finding Community and Creating Magic
Muny Kid Rebecca Mooney says she missed the community most of all. “Since we learned the materials via Zoom, we weren’t able to be an in-person ensemble. I missed the energy that comes from being together and hearing each other’s voices in real time,” she says. “While it wasn’t the same, it made me so happy to virtually interact with everyone, and to still have the chance to do what we love!”
Muny Teen Nathaniel Mahone says he and his peers had to step back and focus on how they, as performers, could really contribute to the group—from a distance. “It’s one thing to be ready for an in-person rehearsal or performance but learning remotely and being ready to perform with no in-person coaching or prep was a huge challenge,” he says. “However, knowing we worked together to create Muny magic during a global pandemic was truly special.”
For the Muny Kids and Teens creating their annual holiday show virtually is the next challenge. In addition, virtual options are being created for BFA Bootcamp, audition workshops and others within the Masterclass Series along with two new education offers set to premiere later this fall. “Like every arts organization, we are committed to continuing to learn new platforms and technologies to help ensure theatre remains accessible to students and their families,” Tali says.
The Muny’s Crawford Taylor Education Initiative includes 10 different programs for more than 1,800 students as young as third grade through college seniors. All programs are designed to provide exceptional training and mentorship in all disciplines of musical theatre—both on and offstage. The entire Muny curriculum makes a difference far beyond training the next generation of theatre professionals. Research shows theatre education increases self-confidence, improves collaboration skills, strengthens problem solving and much more.