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Student-Crafted Musical ‘Martius’ Experiments with Virtual Stage

Nine actors stand in a field. Trees line the horizon against a gray sky. To the sound of a gong, they say together in monotone, “Rome — fractured in the aftermath of a war for independence…”

Individually, cast members present pieces of the prologue. Each wears a monochrome mask that matches their simple costumes. Rome is at war, and famine has put the commoners on edge. The commoners want to elect a war hero as consul, but the hero wants nothing to do with their politics, despite continued pressure from her mother.

This is Martius. The one-act original musical follows a hero as she is banished from Rome and wanders starving to her enemy’s capital. There, Martius helps her nemesis Aufidius stage an attack on Rome in revenge. 

The musical aired Nov. 3 through Vimeo, sharing the night with “Crash Test,” a bold dance experiment, and the show is still online. These are two of seven shows in this year’s Second Season, a theater program providing a stage for student-crafted productions.

Second Season shows are arranged at least a semester in advance. Originally, Maura Keefe, the director of the theater, dance and performance studies school, canceled the program due to the pandemic. But over the summer, she asked group leaders if they could envision their productions on a virtual, rather than a physical, stage — seven of eight leaders agreed.

Beth Rendely, the playwright and composer, said its poignant solos and soul-stirring choruses are based on William Shakespeare’s tragedy, Coriolanus.

Martius was filmed throughout two weekends in October at locations around campus, then edited and uploaded two days before opening night, Rendely said, as part of making a musical in a socially distanced era.

“I hope [Martius] provides an ‘in’ to the body of Shakespeare’s work,” Rendely said. “And that this helps teach you about some of your relationships with your family members and how you place value upon yourself.”

Abigail Olshin, the director of Martius, worried that the cast would have to perform the musical over Zoom. Due to lag times and Zoom’s background noise suppression software, it’s difficult to capture overlapping voices and harmonies.

In one production meeting, though, Olshin found that the show could be pre-recorded and aired later, so it could still be a theatrical performance. Production teams also have access to costumes, lighting and cameras, plus $250-$300 for special purchases to make the show their own.

“It’s really exciting to be in a production meeting with the other students, but also with our production manager and grad students,” Olshin said. “And they’re all very seriously asking, ‘Well, what do you need? What can we do to help and support you with this?’”

The last night of Second Season productions will be Dec. 3. Haunting dance piece “I AM IN A BASEMENT” and a set of vaudeville-style skits named “Veiled” will stream online at 7:30 p.m.

Rachel Logan

Maryland '22

Rachel has a bachelor's degree in computer engineering, but now is pursuing a journalism master's degree. She loves hiking, cats and meeting new people.
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