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PEMCo adapts musical ‘Something Rotten’ to comply with COVID-19 guidelines

| Friday, April 9, 2021

This semester, the cast and crew of the Pasquerilla East Music Company (PEMCo) have adapted their latest musical “Something Rotten” to comply with COVID-19 restrictions. 

The showtimes include April 9 at 8 p.m. and April 10 at 3:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. on the Washington Hall Mainstage. While in-person tickets sold out quickly since only 40 people can safely social distance in the theatre at a time, those both on and off-campus are encouraged to purchase a live stream ticket online.

Described as a combination of the best of Shakespearean Renaissance and contemporary musical theatre by one of PEMCo’s co-executive producers Gabrielle Evans, “Something Rotten” tells the story of brothers Nick and Nigel Bottom, a playwright duo trying to make their mark on the theatre scene in 16th century London. However, the brothers are continually overshadowed by their wildly popular contemporary, William Shakespeare.

Desperate to compete with Shakespeare, Nick visits a soothsayer who tells him that musicals will be the next big thing in theatre. Filled with humor, romance and dancing, the show follows the Bottom brothers’ journey to create the world’s first musical.

Director and sophomore Elizabeth Maroshick explained the production team selected the show in July after considering many different options to find a show that was both feasible with COVID-19 restrictions in place and a good fit for PEMCo. 

“We thought ‘Something Rotten’ was the perfect choice for this year because it’s really just a feel-good show,” Maroshick said.

Maroshick, who is making her directorial debut after many years of acting in high school and PEMCo productions, added that another reason the show was selected was for its parallels to the issues the world is facing today and the message of hope the show presents.

“A lot of what they’re going through in the show is mirroring what we’re kind of going through now,” Maroshick said. “They’ve just gotten through the Black Death … We thought this would be a good parallel to show how the arts can have a renaissance after a period of adversity.”

Maroshick confidently looks forward to a modern-day renaissance, but there is no doubt that the pandemic has been a major source of adversity for PEMCo. 

“Interpreting COVID guidelines through all of this was honestly the biggest thing we did to prep before we could actually get into production,” Maroshick said.

Significant adjustments were made to the show to ensure that the actors, who will all be wearing masks, would always be at least six feet apart on stage and 12 feet apart while dancing.

“It required a lot of creative thinking,” Evans said. “There are only so many ways you can space people evenly 12 feet apart across the stage. But everyone has been so incredibly creative, thinking on their feet. It’s been a difficult process but definitely worth it.”

Evans said, however, that the biggest obstacle the production team faced was the University’s ban on singing indoors which required the actors to prerecord their musical numbers. As Evans explained it, during the live performances, the actors will essentially be lip-syncing to themselves.

“We ended up having to create the position of a sound engineer to record all the vocals and all of the orchestration ahead of time, and then put together the tracks for the performance,” Evans said. “The hardest part was just figuring out all the logistics for that, because we had never really done anything like that before in PEMCo.”

But despite the unprecedented challenge of prerecording the music, Evans said the cast adapted incredibly well.

“Everyone was able to put their own twist on it and get really engaged in all parts of the process,” Evans said after watching the first dress rehearsal. “They sound really great.”

Of course, the pandemic presented other challenges as well. The cast and crew, who had been rehearsing since the beginning of the semester following online auditions during the Winter Session, were forced to rehearse virtually when the University suspended in-person activities in February through early March.

“Whenever you’re forced to do rehearsals over Zoom, that definitely makes the process harder,” said the show’s artistic producer senior Danny Shaw. “It’s hard to get people to feel a connection over Zoom.”

Shaw said that this is in part why it was so important to PEMCo that they perform this show in-person. 

“We are really happy that we’re able to share this with the Notre Dame community because people who love going to shows have just been so deprived of that this past year,” Shaw said. 

Evans echoed Shaw’s sentiment. 

“We’re so grateful that we’re able to bring the magic of live theatre to people on campus, as well as being able to live stream for those unable to come in person,” Evans said.

She added that if COVID has brought on any blessing in disguise, it is that friends and family members from home will be able to watch the show via live stream. 

“I hope the audience will take away a message of hope that even during a crazy pandemic, we can have live theatre slowly and safely bringing people together,” Evans said. “Whether or not the audience can come in person or they’re on our live stream, hopefully we can just make everyone’s day.”

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