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Studio 58 musical Monoceros debuts under the stars

Theatre students had to get creative with their presentation as pandemic foiled an indoor premiere

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Reported by Emily Lyth

Wearing masks designed for vocal performance, Langara’s Studio 58 theatre students showcased a musical titled Monoceros in a creative outdoor tent set-up.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the students couldn’t perform the musical, which was commissioned by the Toronto-based Musical Stage Company, in front of an audience indoors.

Instead, they presented the musical from March 25-28 in front of a small audience composed only of Studio 58 students and faculty members.

Silken Lawson, a third-year theatre arts student, said that adapting to a pandemic-friendly stage environment was challenging.

“It’s been a big shift learning how to perform and create your own energy on stage, instead of taking it from people who are watching you,” Lawson said.

Silken Lawson, a cast member in the Monoceros musical, has been rehearsing in an outdoor tent on the Langara campus. Photo: Emily Lyth

The idea to perform the musical in outdoor tents can be attributed to Courtenay Dobbie, Studio 58’s new artistic director, who has experience working in outdoor theatre.

The students collaborated on Monoceros with established theatre professionals, including a director, music supervisor, writers, composers and lyricists.

Stage under the stars

The outdoor set-up, referred to as an “outdoor musical theatre lab,” consisted of one main tent where the actors performed and three smaller tents for production elements, including live keyboard and percussion music.

In the main tent, students sat on stools eight feet apart from each other and wore face masks designed to allow proper voice resonance when singing.

Anton Lipovetsky, a composer-lyricist for Monoceros, said the masks “kind of look like bird beaks.” Their structured shape enables a wearer to breathe deeply and open their mouth wide enough to sing loudly without causing the mask to cave in like a typical cloth or disposable face mask might.

Lipovetsky said that rehearsing in face masks put a spin on what a traditional musical looks like for the students.

“They have the challenge of acting without seeing their faces, so it’s almost like voice acting,” said Lipovetsky. “There’s a real emphasis on the language, the music and the text, hearing it apart from the staging.”

Anton Lipovetsky is a composer-lyricist for Monoceros and a creative at the Toronto-based Musical Stage Company. Photo: Emily Lyth
Playing in the big leagues

Third-year acting student Jacob Leonard said that working with theatre professionals was a great experience.

“I think the craziest thing for me is watching their turnaround,” Leonard said. “Because this is a workshop and because [Monoceros] is constantly in flux, they’re just pumping out material.”

Both Lawson and Leonard are graduating from Studio 58’s acting program this spring.

Lawson said that performing Monoceros has been the highlight of her last year.

“Getting to be on campus and just hanging out and singing songs with my friends is something that I’m gonna miss a lot when I graduate,” Lawson said.

Lipovetsky said the students at Studio 58 taught him what true positivity is.

“It can be super gruelling being outdoors — cold, wind, rain — and I see all the students, and they’re just beaming and shining,” Lipovetsky said.

“It inspires me, I want to find that in myself when I see that.”

A short documentary film of Studio 58’s work from the past year, including Monoceros, is set to be released online in April.

 Watch Monoceros cast members talk about performing outside in the video below:

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