‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ cast, crew keep cancelled musical alive through social media
Renee Pierson | Tuesday, March 31, 2020
Wednesday would have been the opening night of the Film, Television and Theatre (FTT) Department’s production of “Jesus Christ Superstar,” the 1970 rock opera exploring the life of Jesus. After numerous weeks of rigorous rehearsal, the cast and crew were devastated to learn that they would not be returning to campus this semester. However, they have since resolved to keep their hard work from going to waste in the midst of the global pandemic.
The spring musical was expected to be a unique modern interpretation of the classic Biblical story of Jesus Christ, cast members said.
“It was going to be a multimedia musical theatre show, which was super exciting for us to be able to work on,” senior cast member Teagan Earley said. “We were going to take the original score and script and set it in modern times where all of a sudden Jesus is not just the one everyone thought was going to be the Messiah, but also a social media star.”
The crew was planning on supplementing the show with images of interactions between characters via Twitter and other forms of social media.
“We were going to use a lot of social media to help tell the story,” Earley said. “So something would happen on stage, and then you would see screens above the stage.”
The cast had worked on developing their characters, learning choreography and running the show throughout the semester up until spring break, she added, which made the abrupt change of plans even more difficult.
“I spent a lot of time thinking about how I was going to bring this character to life on stage,” Earley said of her role as Judas Iscariot. “She turned into such a complex and interesting character, and I’m really sad that I didn’t get the chance to introduce her to everyone.”
“We put so much time into it,” freshman cast member Kelly Harris said. “We had rehearsals from 6 to 10 [p.m.] every night, except Fridays and Saturdays.”
Seniors were especially challenged with coming to terms that their last college production was canceled in such an unprecedented way, senior cast member and dance captain Rachel Thomas said.
“When you’re an actor going out to the real world, your last show kind of means a lot,” Thomas said. “It’s kind of that last hurrah with the people in FTT. You can’t begin to describe the disappointment that the seniors feel right now.”
The show’s director Matt Hawkins sprung into action when the bad news first reached the student body.
“Our director has been such an incredible leader in this crisis,” Earley said of Hawkins. “He led the way on announcing that he was going to be releasing his directorial concepts and footage from our rehearsal process bit by bit every day.”
Hawkins — an assistant professor in the FTT department — said he refused to let the show lose to the pandemic.
“Once we got canceled, I had to figure out … Do we let the virus beat us? Do we make the best of it?” Hawkins said.
Since March 17, Hawkins has been posting daily videos on his YouTube channel showcasing the different aspects of the show and describing how they would have played out on stage.
“He has students actually submit videos talking about their favorite part of the show and who they played in the show,” Thomas said.
Thomas was playing the role of Peter in the show, and Hawkins used her footage to create one of his videos showing the scene where Peter denies Jesus.
“He rolled the clip of me talking and then combined it with the video of me performing [the denial scene] in the rehearsal room,” she said. “I got to talk about what that meant for me and how that developed my character of Peter more.”
By featuring a combination of rehearsal videos, personal testimonies and illustrated walkthroughs of the production plan, Hawkins has created a virtual commemoration of the show.
“The intention was to do my best to honor all the work we have done as a collective [team],” Hawkins said. “This was just my attempt to continue to build community and try to salvage what we had done.”
Some of the cast members have also been working on their own social media campaigns to keep Jesus Christ Superstar alive.
Earley has created a series of Instagram IGTV videos entitled “The Judas Diaries” about her process of becoming her character.
Harris and her castmates have expanded their reach onto TikTok, creating an account dedicated to spotlighting some of the cast members’ talents.
“The idea is that we’re going to put people singing and dancing just showcasing the work that we did in that short period of time and putting it into a place where multiple people can see it,” Harris said.
Thomas also hopes to have a virtual compilation of one of the songs ready to share at some point.
“We’re looking at having our music director send out a piano recording and have everyone sing their part,” she said, “I’d just put them all together with music and have this video of everyone singing their part and the harmonies coming out.”
Though the cast members were disappointed by the cancellation of the show, Thomas said they are looking forward to bringing the performance to audiences in alternative ways.
“It’s extremely devastating, but to have something like this gives you some glimmer of hope that all your hard work was not put to waste,” Thomas said.