This was my first College Night experience…and what an extraordinary experience it was…thank you all!
I just arrived home…super charged by the event…amazed that this opportunity exists on your college campus. What a gift you have been given…and a gift whose resonance will deepen with time…something to look forward to!
There was such a marvelous sense of belonging in the room tonight…and it wasn’t just belonging to the people who were present…it was belonging to all the people who have ever been present at a College Night…Gold and Purple…their spirits were in the room with us. Powerful stuff!
Congratulations on the creation and performance of STARPOWER. Mounting a fully produced musical in 6 weeks is no easy task…and you did it! No doubt it has been an extraordinary experience…one that has given rise to personal growth and greater collaboration for each of you.
I have been asked to share my thoughts on your show and your production. I do so in the spirit of education and hope that my thoughts are useful in your future endeavors.
The development of a new musical usually takes many years of workshops and productions before it has been honed into an effective piece of theatre. It seems to me that tonight’s version of STARPOWER is a great beginning. It is a wonderful first mounting of a new musical and it needs edits and revisions in order to be fully realized. My notes will be in the form of suggestions…things to be considered should you choose to continue working on STARPOWER.
STAND OUT MOMENTS:
- Set— Bar was well imagined and executed
- Costumes—great looks for the friends
- Mom—lovely voice and presence
- Dad—great storytelling
- Lights—nice sequence in the bar
- Set—the recording studio was well imaged and executed
- Secretary—lot’s of fun
- Producer—rich voice and timing
- Score—“Lots of Moulah”—very catchy
- Choreography—“Lots of Moulah”—strongest number in the show—kudos to the tappers
- Kyra—lovely work
- Set—the awards show was well imagined and executed
- Choreography—very strong sequence in “Famous”
- Vogue dancer—you better go
- Rex—nice charisma…well played
- Staging—“Best Friend Blues”—very clear
- Mom & Dad—phone message was clear, funny and effective
- Kyra’s Solo—well delivered
- Acting—Confrontation scene with parents in the bar—nice work—you were listening to each other—the scene was believable
- Gigi & Kyra—“There is Change on the Way”—sounded great
- Choreography—“There is Change on the Way”—well done!
- Final scene with Mom & Dad
- Mom & Dad at concert
- Set—the lighted flying pieces were effective
- Choreography—Ending of “We Can Fly”
- Lights—Ending of “We Can Fly”
- Suggestion: The first scene of a musical orients the audience to the world of the show and clearly defines the expectation of what is to follow. STARPOWERs split scene opening was difficult to follow. It is a good conceit…it just needs to be workshopped and clarified.
- Suggestion: devote more time to the development of Kyra’s story…her desire to become a star…her doubts and her confidences. The audience must be given the opportunity to fall in love with her…at which point they will be inspired to cheer her on to stardom.
- The leading characters were Kyra, the parents, Gigi, and the producer. The most fully realized characters in the show were the parents and the producer. Suggestion: Expand the storylines of Kyra and Gigi and trim or cut the secondary and tertiary characters in the show.
- Suggestion: STARPOWER presents a unique challenge because it is about the pop world. Pop lyrics tend to be repetitive and often explore a moment or an idea ad nauseam. In musical theatre…songs are responsible for moving the plot forward, adding new information, providing the audience a window into a characters inner world, or expanding the emotional reality of a moment. Even in this pop world the lyrics must advance the storyline.
- Though I had difficulty understanding many of the lyrics due to mic and diction issues the lyrics that I did on understand were suited to the music.
- This is not my area of expertise and so I can only speak in generalities. I trust that my colleagues will communicate more specifically.
- Suggestion: Work to find greater rhythmic and melodic variety within the show.
- Suggestion: Work to find the most compelling melodic lines that fuel, illuminate and forward the story.
- Suggestion: Consider the world of the play. What are the rules of the world? How do people behave? How does the world look? What is the overall feeling of the world? It is imperative that the world of the play be cohesive…that all the elements come together to create a completed world. It is the directors responsibility to imagine and communicate the world of the show to the designers and the actors.
- Suggestion: Watch rehearsal with the eyes of a newborn baby…without expectation…without agenda…watch to see where your attention goes…what is drawing your focus? Is it the focus of the scene? If not, change the blocking…change the direction given to the actors. And again, watch the scene with the eyes of a newborn baby. Watch to see where your attention goes…what is drawing your focus? Is it the focus of the scene? Is the story clear? If not, change the blocking…change the direction given to the actors. Do this over and over until the story on the stage is supporting and telling the intended story.
- Suggestion: Talk with the choreographer about the story that is being told in each of the numbers. How does the number forward the plot. How can the movement support the story? All movement and dance, with the exception of dance breaks, should be aligned in telling the story.
- Suggestion: Encourage actors to “cheat out” during dialogue sequences. Young actors tend to stare into each others eyes while playing a scene. In no way is this believable behavior…and our goal is believable behavior. Help each actor find possible moments to cheat out: moments of thinking, imagining, discomfort, uncertainty, etc.
- Suggestion: Consider the “pitch” of the performance. Every story has a perfect pitch or frequency that can be translated into a style or genre. With clear and concise direction each of the actors can calibrate their performance to the appropriate pitch/style. In tonight’s performance the actors were over performing…everyone was too hot and too fast…and consequently much of the story was lost.
- Suggestion: Encourage the actors to listen and respond to their fellow actors. You must convince them that they are telling a story…together…and they must work as a team on behalf of the story. Listening is key.
- Suggestion: Transitions are the life blood of any show. Consider keeping the story alive when moving from scene to scene.
- Suggestion: Distinguish between numbers that are purely video dance…from numbers that are story dance…from numbers that are video/story dance and approach each in consistently different ways. STARPOWER is a challenging piece because the performance style shifts from number to number…and within numbers.
- Suggestion: Watch choreography with the eyes of a newborn baby…without expectation…without agenda…watch to see where your attention goes…what is drawing your focus? Is it the focus of the song? If not, change the choreography. And again, watch the choreography with the eyes of a newborn baby. Watch to see where your attention goes…what is drawing your focus? Is it the focus of the song? If not, change the choreography. Rinse and repeat until the choreography supports and tells the story of the song. If there is a soloist they must always be the focal point…every other movement on the stage supports or brings focus to the soloist.
- Suggestion: When teaching choreography break step sequences into Beats (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8) and marry each movement to a numbered beat. You might call them checkpoints. When you clean the dances you can move from checkpoint to checkpoint at increasing rates of speed. This will allow the dancers to achieve synchronization. Rehearse until all dancers can do it correctly the first time.
- Suggestion: Consider the following: a choreographers role is to make the performer look great! A choreographer must first assess the performers skill level and create dynamic choreography that aligns with the performers ability. Complexity is not the goal. This is particularly true for soloists. If a performer cannot master and transcend a step during performance then it is too difficult and should be modified or completely changed.
- Suggestion: Consider the following: good acting is believable acting. Even when an actor is assuming a heightened or stylized manner of play it must believable. And what makes it believable is the actor’s psychological investment in the given circumstances and their ability to listen and allow themselves to be moved by their fellow actors. Listening and responding are key.
- Suggestion: Allow your microphones to work for you. Many cast members were speaking and singing too loudly and the result was distortion and indiscernible dialogue and lyrics. Over-modulation – too much energy (think volume) is pushed through the microphone. The circuitry can only handle so much input, so the signal gets distorted.
- Suggestion: “cheat out” during dialogue sequences. Young actors tend to stare into each others eyes while playing a scene. In no way is this believable behavior…and our goal is believable behavior. Possible moments to cheat out: moments of thinking, imagining, discomfort, uncertainty, etc.
- Suggestion: Diction, Diction, Diction
- Suggestion: When learning dance sequences break them down into Beats (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8) and marry each movement to a numbered beat. You might call them checkpoints. When you clean the dances you can move from checkpoint to checkpoint at increasing rates of speed. This will allow all dancers to be more synchronized. Rehearse until everyone can execute the dance without flaw.
- Suggestion: Consider the focus in every moment of every scene. Distinguish those moments when you have the focus from the moments that you are supporting the person/persons who have the focus. Adjust your energetic output and storytelling accordingly. The ensemble must work as a team to support the ever changing focus of the story. If you are in the background, large gestures or fast movements detract from the action in the foreground. If the focus is upstage and ensemble members are facing downstage they are creating a split focus or a potential distraction for the audience.
- Suggestion: Consider the way in which costumes help to direct and focus the attention of the audience. Which colors should be in the foreground (costumes for leading characters)? Which colors support and form a pleasing backdrop for the action (costumes for ensemble)? How do patterned and solid fabrics work together to create visual distinction between characters?
- Suggestion: Consider the over-all look of the stage. How do costumes work together to create a pleasing picture that supports the story.
- Suggestion: Consider heightening the world of the costume plot. Go even further. Make the costumes a bit more campy…a bit more over the top.
- Suggestion: Consider the way in which the set defines the space and helps create the world of the show. If the set is inconsistent from scene to scene (either in design or in the level of completion) it creates a distraction for the audience and detracts from the show.
- Suggestion: Consider using more flying pieces.
- Suggestion: Consider more in-1 scenes (in front of the main drape)
Hair & Make-up
- Suggestion: Give further consideration to age and status and allow this inform your plot.
- Consider heightening all the looks. Go even further. Make the hairstyles bigger and the make-up more glamorous… a bit more campy…a bit more over the top.
- Suggestion: Consider using a ground row at the back of the stage. This would cover the lighting instruments used on the cyc, create a defined horizon line, and act as a frame for the action.
- Suggestion: Consider transition lighting and how to best support the story being told. The use of silhouette during scene changes was distracting.
- Suggestion: Consider the spotlights as more of a character in the show…perhaps hit all soloists who are performing in the bar or on Video. Hullabaloo for the awards ceremony. Add spots for all performances in the bar.
- Suggestion: Consider adding story to ensemble set changes, changing the light cues to support focus of story, adding more in-1 scenes (in front of the curtain).
Overall Effect of Production
- Congratulations on your first mounting of STARPOWER…it was a great beginning!
- Suggestion: be proud of your work and all that you accomplished!
- Suggestion: Mine this experience for the wisdom that it holds.
- Suggestion: Create…again and again and again…until your intention is fully realized.
Thank you for making College Night a huge success! I had a wonderful time and wish all of you the very best!
University of Montevallo
2023 College Night
Evaluation of performance on Saturday, February 11, 2023
First of all, kudos to Everyone for putting together something that typically takes
months, if not years for writers and creatives to accomplish. The whole adage of “not
knowing how the sausage gets made” really does apply to musical theatre. It truly does
take a not-so-proverbial village giving of and giving up their time, imagination, and
energy to make it all happen, to get the finished product on stage. While I only viewed
your final performance, I am fully aware of what it took to get there. Bravo! Brava!
GOLD Side – Starpower!
There were many moments throughout the presentation where I found myself smiling
and laughing. I appreciated the inventive ‘winks’ to current and past pop culture
references, and stock character tropes. Unfortunately, those moments did not seem to
be fully connected to each other via a sense of tone or style. Almost all of my criticisms
of the show relate to two things: Setting and Timeline.
Once I realized what was going on in the opening scenes, I began to question the logic
When was all of this happening? Was this taking place in the present day? -Gigi’s song
had a very 1980’s vibe to it. Kira’s song did as well. The groove and style was very
reminiscent of Pat Benatar and “Footloose.” Was/is retro back in style? Was this really
the type of music that teenagers(?), college-aged young adults would be watching on
YouTube, and making go viral on TikTok? I think a more contemporary, a more TikTok-y
sounding song would have been more effective for Kira’s viral song. -Unless the
similarity in style was meant to be a clue of sorts.
And then once the plot twist that Gigi and Kira were sisters was fully revealed…
What was the age difference between Gigi and Kira? Was it possible that Kira would
have no memory of her older sister? Just how long had their parents kept the secret?
Did no one else in town know that Kira had an older sister? -An older sister who just
seemed to disappear one day? Had Gigi grown up enough – and possibly had some
plastic surgery? – that her face, her physical appearance would not have triggered
some memories for Kira and her close friends? Did Kira’s friends not come across any
pictures of Kira with Gigi as they were going through those family photos? And what
was a box of family photos that were presumably private doing out in the open
available for any nosy friends to go through? Again: Where was the logic? The
timeline? -This “long lost sister” device was a built-in obstacle since you’re all
contemporaries, around the same age.
The over-protective parents and the slimy record exec did call back to many an ‘after
school special’ and ‘movie of the week’ for me – in a good way. Alas, establishing the
differences in age and experiences(!) – beyond just using makeup and wigs – of those
adult roles versus the “young people” was not completely successful. More context, a
shaper contrast was needed in both the script, as well as in the roles around those
Musically, while I appreciated the 80’s and disco vibe of the score – which was also
reflected in the band-stration – I found myself wishing for some true endings to songs. I
wanted a button! Major 7ths and 9ths do provide great color, but don’t overlook the
powerful simplicity of good, solid octaves or an open-fifth power chord to end a song.
Definite endings would have also aided the transitions from one scene to another. ‘And
now the playoff…’ One additional thing I was hoping to encounter: a true ballad.
Maybe a duet about being sisters? A solo about the prospect of having a sister (again)?
A solo about wanting to be a part of a family again? A missed opportunity.
In regards to the lyrics: don’t hesitate to re-write, re-rhythm a melodic fragment to
make a phrase sound more like natural, closer to spoken speech. There were more
than a handful of instances where my ear picked up the stress on a wrong sylLAble.
Eighth rests, sixteenth rests, ‘dots’, and breaths are your friends.
Despite being distracted by trying to figure out the family’s and community’s timeline –
and seeming short-term memory – there were moments that brought a true smile to my
face. The Golden Hour Bar & Grille provided the perfect setting to highlight some of
your featured actors. -Bad karaoke singer FTW! The Lion’s Pride Music Awards scene
was also the ideal way to showcase the featured dancers and supporting roles.
Thank You for sharing your talent and dedication with me and your University of
MONTEVALLO COLLEGE NIGHT 2023
FEBRUARY 16, 2023
“Starpower!” – Gold Side
It is such a privilege to be invited to judge College Night at Montevallo. This more than 100-year tradition is such a special event and is a testament to the creativity, ingenuity and talent that Montevallo cultivates. This year was no exception.
“Starpower!”, a story about the trappings of fame, was a fun ride that had a strong point-of-view. As Kira grapples with new-found fame and struggles to be herself in a world of glitz and glamour, she finally realizes that family and friendship should hold more value. This theme seemed to speak to the philosophy of the Gold Side and was a solid vehicle to invite song and dance.
The story, script and score had strong elements. The use of cellphones and calls as transitional moments was clever and kept the story moving, while also showing the distance between Kira and her friends. Having moments of split-screen storytelling (like the opening number, “Live Ur Life”), set up the differing worlds that Kira has to decide between. There were also smart moments downstage of the grand drape that allowed for seamless scene changes. The pop-infused score was catchy and allowed for clean orchestrations with a traditional pop/rock sound. Finally, using the “Starpower” number with different lyrics at the end was a clever way to show the growth of the central characters.
Additionally, the energy onstage was infectious. Every actor was fully committed to their roles and the ensemble was having a blast. In particular, Kira’s best friends, Cora, Cameron and Grace had full inner lives, were really specific in their work and showed tons of physical commitment. While some of the solo singing was not in the center of the pitch, there were some strong vocals, especially Stephen Haymond as Daniel McMichaels.
While some of staging worked really well, there were several moments in the show when actors played out front instead of to one another, which occasionally took away from the more intimate moments. There were also times where it was difficult to find the central action. For instance, it was hard to locate Kira behind the bar in that first bar scene. While the choreography had lots of energy, the stage pictures did not always tell the story, with many straight lines. Sometimes the principles got lost in the crowd.
The script and score worked well together and the pop-infused music set up the story. The central dilemma could have been more fleshed out in the dialogue. I missed the story of the lost sister during “Protect You” and only got one mention of that in the dialogue after the song. Really driving that point home would have set up the higher stakes, both for Kira and her parents. The reunion between Gigi and the parents at the end was also rushed and seemed forced – this moment could be the strongest emotional moment of the show. Most of the music worked in the style of the show, but Kira’s decision song “Lies”, felt like more of a jazz tune which seemed out of character from the rest of her music in the show.
As for the technical elements, the lighting, scenery and costumes told the story, but all three elements could be more specific. The audience was able to see all of the actors but with the general wash of lighting, sometimes it was difficult to catch the principles on stage, and the moments of split-screen (like the opening number) felt like they were happening in the same location. The costumes for the back-up dancers did not match and looked rough – if the central story is about power and fame, those “performance” looks could have been more slick and stylized. Also, Kira needed a stronger look to give her more star-power – it was sometimes difficult to see why she was such a “special” artist outside of her music. A stronger look may have helped with that storytelling. Finally, the scenery worked but was general. More specificity in the looks and locations could further aid in the storytelling of the two different worlds.
Despite my comments above, I am so impressed by the work the Gold Side was able to accomplish. Creating an original musical in a few short months is a mammoth undertaking and to do so with a clear story, strong score and moral is truly remarkable. Congratulations!