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Baldwin Wallace University Students Turn 'Spring Awakening' Into Movie

The pandemic drastically changed things for Baldwin Wallace University's Music Theatre program, especially for its students, known for their talents singing and dancing onstage.

However this year, the students prove an old adage true — "The show must go on."

During the summer, music theatre director Victoria Bussert and her BW artistic team planned to stage their fall production of "Spring Awakening" in front of a live, but much smaller audience. 

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Victoria Bussert, director of music theatre, Baldwin Wallace University [Baldwin Wallace University]

But just days before school was to start, the university more or less nixed that idea.

So Bussert began to brainstorm.

"It was really important to me that we create something. We can't have students here getting their degrees as performers in music theater and say, 'sit it out for a year,'" Bussert said.

Plan B was to go virtual. In other words, shoot the Tony-winning show as a movie.

Music director Matthew Webb became the show's de facto videographer and editor, while students like senior Ally Carbonar got to perform and film their vocal parts from inside their dorm rooms.

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Senior Ally Carbonar stars as Wendla Bergmann in the BW virtual production of "Spring Awakening." [Baldwin Wallace University]

"We were like, 'This is gonna be like filming an indie film. We don't really know what's going to happen, but this is fun.' I haven't done anything like this before. You know I'm in college, I'm trying to learn as much as I can about everything and I think this is a great opportunity," Carbonar said.

Spotty internet caused some early headaches, as did the students' spotty performances, at least initially.

Senior Jahir Hipps struggled with the non-linear style of filming and what that meant for his character's development.

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Senior Jahir Hipps stars as Melchior Gabor in the BW virtual production of "Spring Awakening." [Baldwin Wallace University]

"We can film the last shot the first day. So you kinda have to know how you got there without having done any of it in person already. Trying to get that aspect of 'I'm growing with the show' out of your head," Hipps said. 

For Carbonar it was hard to get into character alone in her bedroom.

"Getting in the zone of performing when you're staring at your dresser or your bed was a challenge. Being like, 'OK I need to commit to the character, but I'm wearing my slippers in my bed right now,'" Carbonar said.

And then there was the small matter of the show's big dance numbers, which took the students from their dorm rooms to the BW stage.

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Victoria Bussert prepares students to shoot a dance number from the BW virtual production of "Spring Awakening." [Baldwin Wallace University]

Initially the choreography was taught over Zoom by BW Head of Dance Greg Daniels, with the students learning the routines from their living rooms and kitchens.

The following night, the students gathered in an old high school gym in Berea to rehearse while socially distant and wearing masks.

Once the number was put together, the next night the cast got onstage at BW for one short filming session with cameras spread around the auditorium.

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Dance number from BW virtual production of "Spring Awakening" [Baldwin Wallace University]

"We film it for 30 minutes and that's the end of that number, and then we move on to the next thing," Bussert said.

Carbonar appreciated this in-person time with the rest of the cast, however brief.

"It was great because we haven't really been onstage a lot in this process, and it was just really fun to be able to do that," Carbonar said.

Bussert said it gave the students a new kind of experience.

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A scene from the BW virtual production of "Spring Awakening" [Baldwin Wallace University]

"Like if you were hired for a TV show or you were hired to come in for a movie. You'd only come in for those two or three days and that's it," Bussert said.

Despite performing much of the show in virtual settings, the cast eventually found a way to overcome the obstacles of the pandemic and produce something they're all proud of.

Hipps was able to adapt to the Zoom performances and focus on his fellow actors.

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A scene from the BW virtual production of "Spring Awakening" [Baldwin Wallace University]

"You're still connecting with another human being, whether it be from wherever you are and that's tangible," Hipps said,

Despite the dearth of time performing side by side, Carbonar still felt connected.

"I just feel like there's a unique connection that we all formed [while] making this art in this tumultuous time," Carbonar said.

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A scene from the BW virtual production of "Spring Awakening" [Baldwin Wallace University]

Bussert said she is so encouraged by the results, it's changed her outlook on the entire COVID-19 production.

"I find it so dynamic and so exciting. So much so that I want to do more of these even when we get on the other side of the pandemic, because I find it really energizing and a whole new way of looking at these pieces."

You can look at this new virtual production of "Spring Awakening" from Baldwin Wallace University's Music Theatre program starting tonight through Sunday afternoon.

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